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).