When walking down the streets of Ottawa you are almost as likely to hear French as you are English. Being the National Capital of a country with a sizeable French population the City of Ottawa is an officially bilingual city, so the two languages co-exist here peacefully (for the most part). Although I, sadly, do not speak French fluently, having grown up in this environment has made me pretty comfortable in a French environment, even if I don’t always understand completely what is going on.
As you may or may not know, in just a short three and a half weeks we set off for a rather big adventure, we’re going to live in France for three months. With our departure less than a month away I am both excited and terrified, mainly because over the last two weeks in Ottawa it has become increasingly clear that our French language skills are considerably below par.
I thought that spending this time in Ottawa would give us the opportunity to get a bit more comfortable with being around French and hearing it spoken, and hopefully pick up a bit more along the way. What the two weeks has actually done is made it blatantly clear that we are far from being able to speak competently in French. This is frightening.
A couple of days after we arrived my mother had organized to have a couple of windows replaced. As it turned out the entire crew of carpenters that arrived to complete the task (astonishingly efficiently I might add), were French…..very French. As the four men came in and out of the door and yelled through the windows at each other, they spoke French and I was lucky if I understood one word in a sentence, and often that word was English. Zut alors!
This is when the panic began to set in.
Now, anyone who is familiar with both the Canadian and European versions of French will know that though they may go by the same name, they are not the same monster. There are different words, different slang, different turns of phrase and, most notably, very different accents. There is a commonly held belief here in Canada that European French speakers don’t even understand Canadian French, or Québécois. Although I’ve always held that this is a spurious belief I am finding myself more and more hopeful that this might actually be the case. I think there’s little chance however, that I’ll understand nothing here in Canada and not only understand in France but respond in elegant French with a perfect accent. C’est un miracle!
Maybe my expectations are too high?
The next month will be spent with our noses glued to our Duolingo French lessons and hoping beyond hope that the people of Pezenas, France will be patient and helpful teachers of French.
Peu importe ce qui se passe ce sera une grande aventure!