Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ce que j'ai fait (What I did)

          Aix-en-Provence has about 140,000 residents and a considerable number of these residents are students, so Aix is both youthful and international due to the number of exchange and international students. My dormitory, called Cuques, was made up of both French and international students; for example, there were Canadian, American, French, Czech, and North African students living on my floor, which meant that in my student life I did not have intense interaction with French people. However, this did not mean that I did not use my French, although  I probably spoke more English than I have should have. Among my closest friends, there were students from Germany, Italy, South Africa, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, Morocco, and Mexico, and for the most part we communicated in French. Of course, when among other Anglophones, it was almost inevitably that we spoke English, though we almost always spoke French when with the other nationalities.
      At the beginning, admittedly, it was tempting and comforting to revert to English, but as the semester progressed I began to enjoy the challenge of explaining something in French and I felt guilty when I would speak English. Small talk is perhaps one of the most difficult things in which to become comfortable when speaking another language. Maybe I was just over thinking common daily interactions, but I sometimes rehearsed what I would say to the cashier at the grocery store before I walked to their till, but gradually it became more habitual and I thought less about what I wanted to say. It made me realize how quickly we speak with each other in our maternal language, and how little we have to think about what we want to say.
      In general, I found it easier to communicate with my professors and older adults than with French kids my own age. As I am sure I do in English, French kids use slang, mumble, and speak hurriedly which makes it hard to keep up as someone who does not know the current trends of a language . Also, it was easier to speak with professors and those in the service industry because it was easier to imagine the context or general topic of that situation, whereas with young French people the conversations were more casual and unfocused--the small talk was difficult. Throughout the semester, as my desire to speak French comfortably and more intuitionally  increased, I began to sacrifice grammatical correctness for the mannerisms I noticed in natural or fluent French speakers. While it did lead me to develop some bad habits when speaking French, I think that overall it is more important to be able to communicate succinctly and swiftly than it is to grammatically speak perfectly; after all, the goal of language is to communicate, and too much time spent paying attention to detail can disrupt that process.

In my next post, I will talk about the places outside of Aix-en-Provence that I visited. Below, some more photos!

The beginning of Springtime in Aix. Whenever there is sun, there are Aix residents sunning themselves at the numerous cafés.

This picture was taken in Marseille, which is about a thirty minute bus ride from Aix. Pictured here, the old port of Marseille, the Mediterranean is directly behind the vantage point of this picture.

à plus!