Sunday, March 23, 2008

Moving up the language ranks

Here's a phenomenon that other expats and migrants might have noticed. My French is definitely improving, to the point that I can have decent conversations with people here, even if I'm less chatty than usual! I've noticed though that it's much easier with people that I've just met because they don't expect my language to be at any particular level. Of course, my accent still gives me away, and "Anglais?" is usually their first question. But I seem to have moved up the ranks a bit with the French.

However, I've noticed that people who met me when I first got here still think of me as barely speaking any French. Remember that, for all intents and purposes, I began speaking French in January. So my landlady and the people in the archives are sort of frozen in that moment. When we get new researchers in the archives and I start carrying on with them in French, the "old timers" look quite surprised. Hence I prefer meeting new people here.

Have others had this experience?


Holly said...

I have not significant enough interactions with other human beings to even begin to guess what they think of me. I do sometimes over-state my level of incompetence, so that people will either slow down (my doctor, the vet), or not bother (the girl who wanted to convince me of the evils of abortion, the Jehovah's Witnesses).

Most of my feedback is in the form of which non-German native language I get asked if I'd rather speak. I got pegged for an English speaker the first time we went to Ikea, and most recently, they asked if I was from Slovenia. I rate that improvement, although I'm pretty sure if the guy had started speaking Slovenian at me, it would've put serious brakes to the conversation train.

All of which is not helped by the fact that whatever German conversation I *could* manage evaporates when confronted by interaction with a stranger. Thanks, social anxiety...!

Greg's experiences have differed significantly, of course. He has a totally different context.

Rufus said...

I think social anxiety accounts for about 90 percent of the problems people have with a new language.

I also find that beginning the conversation with, "Désolée, mon français est mal!" works wonders.

Holly said...

Frequently, here, admitting to bad German ends the conversation. They'd rather I say "What, now?" 20 times than admit that.