“Les deux fenêtres à droite…”

So, I had an incredible realization over the past two days here in Seoul: my French is pretty good.

This was a real shock to me. I have been surrounded by writers, animators and academics from Europe who were often speaking to each other in French. At first, I just waited and hoped for the occasional bit of English to creep in, but at some point I started trying to actually listen to the French…and it worked!

Like most Americans, I had the choice of French or Spanish in middle school. I chose French and had two years of French alternating days with art classes. In effect, I've had one year of junior high French.

When I got to high school (in South Carolina, no less) I was also given the choice to take Latin. Having grown up reading Asterix and being interested in Classical mythology, this was an easy choice for me. I would have chosen German if it had been offered, but it wasn't. I did pretty well in Latin class, but at that point in my life I was not a particularly good student in any subject. Let's just say if we get whisked back in time to ancient Rome, I won't be of much help in getting the best price on a toga in the marketplace. Won't be much help finding the restroom at the Vatican either.

When I got to college, I needed to take a language course to satisfy my Literature degree requirements, and was finally given the opportunity to take German. Again, I did OK with German, retaining a bit from the year I spent in Switzerland as a kid, but I still consider myself a typical American monoglot

At the beginning of the convention I felt really bad about not being able to shift easily from French to Italian to English. The other two Americans in our little group or presenters and judges didn't speak much French either…but they both spoke Japanese! D'oh!

But once I began to concentrate, I gained some confidence and also, through listening, reaquainted myself with much of the vocabulary that I have forgotten. Actually, this started when Beca and I discovered Flight of the Conchords last year and were listening to Foux Da Fa Fa and I recognized much of the secondary school French in the song. Once I got up the courage to actually try speaking a bit of French (a very little bit), I was also reminded that my French pronunciation has always been pretty good thanks in no small part to imitating Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther movies, I'm embarrassed to say. All the years of being a projectionist in an art house theater didn't hurt either.

The bad part: I now realize that if I were to take up French again, I wouldn't be starting from scratch, and that in academic film/animation circles, it would be really useful. But living in Singapore, if I'm going to learn one language (aside from Singlish) it should be Mandarin especially because Annika's already well on her way with that one!

Maybe I'll pick up a few Tintin and Asterix comics in the original French and dip back in informally while starting more formal Mandarin study with Beca (and Annika).


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6 comments on ““Les deux fenêtres à droite…”

  1. Je voudrais parler le francais BROKEN avec toi! I also took french in jr high and high school, about 3 years, and the only time it has EVER come in the least bit handy are these two situations:1. able to get around in Tahiti a bit better than your average tourist2. able to translate the french and 'french' portions foux da fa fa for anyone who will listenI've always wished I were fluent in another language, and felt ashamed of the fact of being yet another american who ONLY speaks english. If I were to try to learn a second language at this point, it would be Spanish. Not only do I feel like I have a head start because I grew up in California where we already know how to pronounce a ton of spanish words (and know the names of TONS of food items,) but think about it! ALL of Central and South America as well as Spain would be a breeze to travel through and get to know people, except for Brasil, which then brings me to wanting to learn Portuguese…I totally think all of you should learn Mandarin! how awesome would it be to be able to speak a language spoken by so many gazillions of people! Also, when you come back to SF you can scare the hell out of any mandarin speakers who are talking shit about you on the bus. Or whatever.

  2. Wow! I stubbled across your site, if you remember, you sat in my midpoint presentation at AAU maybe … 3 years ago? The film finished and is award winning! http://www.pixade.com/winstonsShuttleThat's amazing how you're in Singapore, I tried to get into Nanyang U for this academic year but I have ended up teaching at Southeast Missouri State instead. It was fun meeting Isaac Kerlow.It sounds like you're adjusting well to the cultural change. I really would jump to teach overseas and it's awesome that your family is up for it! Stay in touch, I'm sure we'll run paths again!

  3. Yeah, when making a list of languages I almost speak, I always add: "Plus, I'm from California, so I know some Spanish by osmosis…"I'd love to be the gwai lo in the dim sum restaurant who can understand what's going on 🙂

  4. Hey, this means we can go out for dim sum and you can REQUEST THE GOOD STUFF. I've always wanted to learn French. I was super-inspired by this guy, but I think I don't have the time or the diligence to do it at the moment.

  5. That guy's awesome! Where's his Mandarin equivalent? :)Also, I can go to dim sum and be sure the lady's not slipping me meat!

  6. Mmm, dim sum. It's the only Chinese I speak, though I get shit going back and forth between Cantonese and Mandarin. I learned the names in Cantonese and my Mandarin-speaking sister-in-law gave me a hard time and now I just keep my ear attuned in the restaurant to figure it out which to use. (Most dim sum is the same words with different pronunciation in both languages.)

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