Monday, 30 December 2013

Forgetting French

Some months ago I met a Japanese woman who, I had heard, spoke French. Being then a total beginner to Japanese, after a few sentences in Japanese I asked if we could speak in French. Her answer? 'Le francais, j'ai oublié.' It turned out that she had forgotten. The whole of French.

Three months later - this Christmas - I went to Switzerland and found myself trying to speak French.

Ordering drinks I struggled to remember basic words, even 'please' and 'excuse me', as the Japanese popped into my head more quickly. People asked me questions and I replied, unhesitatingly, with a stream of 'はい, はい, はい'. The word はい (yes) sounds the same as the English 'hi', so my stream of Japanese
perhaps made me seem like some crazy Brit with an extreme need for acknowledgement, something like

French waitor: Bonjour
Me: Bonjour
FW: Would you like something to drink?
Me: はい. Coke, please.
FW: Yes, hi... Something to eat?
Me: はい, s'il vous plait.
FW: ... Is that all?
Me: はい.
FW: ...

Sentences like 'un coca, おねがいします' sometimes fell, panicked, out of my mouth. 

I wasn't really speaking French or Japanese, but some conflation of what I was most used to saying in 
both; basically 'Foreignese'.

It seems that there's only enough room for one studied language in my brain, and Japanese is steadily pushing 
out French as sole occupant. Most likely Harry Hill has crept into my head somehow, inviting French in one
corner and Japanese in the other to: 'FIGHT!'

I don't mind. In fact I'm pretty happy at this development. In September, starting out in Japanese, to say anything
at all was a struggle. I wished I had the seven years' learning behind me that I already had in French. I've learned
two things: 

(1) Immersion works. From day one, my language school spoke to me solely in Japanese. In three months
I have learned not quite, but close, to the amount I learned in seven years of French lessons.

(2) Escaping immersion pays, too. It was impossible to see that I'd progressed from within Japan, because
I was constantly using Japanese, and being made aware of how much I *didn't* know. Being in Switzerland and realising
that most of the things I could say in French I could say in Japanese, and more naturally at that, made me proud 
of my Japanese.

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