Je suis en Francophile, et vouz?

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I have never forgiven the French Huguenots for not wielding more influence and forcing their language on the natives when they settled in D’Afrique du Sud. Maybe the heat was shocking to their systems (which, hello, but what then was their excuse in so much of equally hot Afrique where the natives were forced to become native French-speakers?), but they seemed to not be bothered when the Dutch took over the Mother Tongue department and allowed the creation of Afrikaans.

Forward to me at age 14, when I heard that I had successfully passed my audition and that I was going to be attending the performing arts high school in Pretoria. The thing that thrilled me the second most was that I would finally be able to take French as a subject – never mind the fact that I was barely able to speak English then.

Unfortunately, my plans were soon foiled when one of the teachers advised my parents that, since I was starting school almost in the middle of the school year, I should rather take German, as it would be easier for a native Afrikaans speaker to catch up on.

Grateful to at least be in the school of my dreams, I heeded the advice and took German instead. Perhaps (and more likely) it was because I had no interest in it, but I did NOT find it easy to catch up on at all. Whenever I walked by the French class, I looked in with longing at all the lucky students as they “ecoute et répète” the flowery aural delights that so effortlessly flowed from the young, beret-wearing teacher’s mouth.  

I finally had my chance in college, when we had to take a third language for a year. My choice was French, of course. It was basic, conversational French, but I totally immersed myself in it. The result is that I can now, almost 20 years later, say: “Pardon me, I can’t speak French. Do you speak English, please?” in French, with a perfect French accent.

I can do the same thing in Egyptian Arabic, German, Italian and Spanish. It’s a nifty and impressive party trick and especially with the Arabic, I managed to score a few free cab rides in D.C.

Last year, during a trip to Taiwan, I had the amazing privilege to stay with a host family in Taichung City for about a week and a half. The mother was unable to speak any English, and I was unable to speak any Mandarin (except for “good day”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “South Africa” - accompanied by a gesture of pointing towards myself - and enthusiastically shouting - because there’s really no other way to express it - “I love Taiwan!”). She would speak in Mandarin to her daughters, who sometimes translated, when it was necessary for me to be privy to what was being said. One day, during one of the non-translated conversations, I suddenly piped up and said: “Yes! I KNOW!” And then I added something that was completely relevant to the discussion. 

I was met by incredulous stares and stunned silence. It almost seemed as if I had learned to understand snippets of Mandarin, here and there. But it wasn’t true comprehension, because honestly, I know NO other Mandarin except for those four things stated above. So it was more like somehow – possibly via osmosis - catching the basic gist of what they were talking about. Of course, they were far more sceptical about my continual denials that no, I REALLY could not understand Mandarin.

And sadly, I don’t think I would ever be able to.

I’m not done romancing French though. I desperately want to wrap my brain and tongue around that language and read and even possibly, one day, write in it. 

For now, though, I have to focus on whipping L'Anglais into proper submission. 

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is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
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