Archive for the “French” Category
Before moving to Europe, I had presumed that after learning French and living in a French-speaking region for over three and a half years, I would be able to understand the language. This morning I attended an information session at Hayden’s future pre-school, and I was confronted with how poor my language skills remain. I could understand the subject of the conversation (e.g. food, naps, rainy day activities), but the specifics were completely lost to me. The school hours, the schedule, and a hundred other details went completely over my head.
After the session, I went up to the Directrice and tried to stumble my way through a question. Immediately she said “We may talk in English if you wish.” (This is happening more and more frequently in the French community – the only people I seem to be able to practise my French on are the elderly ladies who live in my apartment). The Directrice told me that over half the students come from non-French speaking homes, with first languages including English, Dutch, Indonesian, Japanese, Turkish, and Arabic.
I have been taking online French classes complemented by half-hour Skype conversations, but I feel that only my accent is improving, while my comprehension and vocabulary is diminishing. I am forgetting how to conjugate. I think that I need to return to face-to-face classes with regular tests if I am ever going to be able to master this language enough to have a decent conversation with Hayden’s friends and teachers.
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Snow falling by our apartment in Leuven, February 2009
In February 2009 we migrated to Belgium, the heart of Europe. We spent the first six months in Leuven in a central semi-furnished apartment. Adrian was able to enjoy a short commute to work, but we found the weekends a little too quiet in this student town. I obtained permanent residency and started my new job as an epidemiologist in April. We bought our first apartment together in July, and became Brusselaars / Bruxellois. In August 2009, PepperMint expanded our family from two to four. Our son was born in Brussels in July 2011.
We still love living here. Brussels continues to feel exotic and romantic. We both enjoy our jobs, and we have met some really great people. Belgium offers a great base to explore countries from Azerbaijan to Iceland to Wales.
My biggest frustration continues to be with the language. I had assumed that after three years of living here I would be fluent in French. I have taken group lessons, I have taken one-on-one lessons, I have participated in language exchange meetings, I have listened to podcasts, I have watched movies, I have listened to radio, I have completed verb text books, I have talked to neighbours, shopkeepers, strangers. Every hour that I spend learning French feels like a horrid struggle. I do not enjoy learning another language. I assumed that once I got to a certain level, I would start having fun. I have not yet reached that level. I am constantly in awe of everyone else around me who is effortlessly multilingual, when I can’t even understand my neighbour in the elevator. This is the one thing that really makes me feel apart from everyone else I see on the street, I am not a true resident of this quarter. It also makes it almost impossible to call up anyone from the electricity company to the local government. I am dreading the process of enrolling Hayden in kindergarten in September.
Happily, two of the aspects of Belgium that I complained about last year - the lack of government and the smoking in pubs – have now been rectified. Plus they even opened the shops on Sundays during the January and July sales.
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Google’s search app for the iPhone now lets one capture an image, turn it to text, and translate it on the fly. I took a few snaps around Brussels to see how well it fared in French and Dutch. Quite well in French, not so well in Dutch.
When we first moved to Belgium I couldn’t read a word of French. This meant shopping at the supermarket took quite a long time, and I usually just went with what was pictured on the side of the box. For the dishwasher, I bought powerball dish-washing tablets, with Calgon, to fight all the limescale that we have in the water here. They worked rather well.
So then for the washing machine, I bought the powerball clothes-washing tablets, with Calgon. The box even had a picture of a clothes washer on the front. After a while, I noticed that my clothes were not getting very clean, but were all turning quite grey. I sat down to finally translate the box, and found at the the tablets contained no detergent at all, just zeolite and polycarboxylate. The joys of living in a non-English country, where the instructions are clearly written in at least two languages, and I still can’t manage to figure them out.
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