Adventures In Language

Parc Lafontaine – Montréal

We are loving our new (temporary) place here in Montréal – cozy neighborhood, quiet, and close to everything we need; parks, cafés, la boulangerie, la fromagerie, le marchand de vins, la pâtisserie… but we are again faced with the challenge of learning a foreign language. An unforeseen challenge, we are now discovering, is transitioning from Spanish to French.

I had never learned Spanish prior to Costa Rica. The thought was daunting, to say the least, but with some help from co-workers and a very handy phrasebook I was able to navigate my way through the markets, ordering food (my specialty), and being polite. The key to moving to a place that speaks a different language than you, not that I’m any one of authority, is to learn what you need to be polite.

Please – por favor/s’il vous plaît

Thank you – gracias/merci

I do not understand – no entiendo/je ne comprends pas

Do you speak English? – ¿Hablas Inglés?/Parlez-vous anglais?

My Spanish/French is very bad! (said with a smile always wins them over) – Mi español es muy malo!/Mon français est très mauvais!

But something that has struck me as incredibly difficult is transitioning from bi- to tri-lingual (I use those terms very loosely – I can barely speak my native language properly).

How do I turn the Spanish ‘off”?

I was ecstatic to re-learn French and immerse myself in the beautiful culture that surrounds the language, but I can’t turn the Spanish ‘off.’ I’m not just talking about pronouncing things as they would be in Spanish, I’m actually mixing English, French and Spanish words into my sentences without realizing.

Most common is hearing gracias or por favor in place of merci and s’il vous plaît. The other day at the market I needed a bag, a simple enough statement in its rudimentary form – un sac, s’il vous plaît, merci – but rather I say, completely unaware, “un sac por favor, gracias.” The cashier and Nick just stared at me and I couldn’t understand why. I was perfectly positive I had asked for a bag. Embarrassed, I turned bright red and apologized – first in Spanish, then French.

It is comforting to know that when I immersed myself in an unfamiliar language I was not only able to learn basic communication skills but use them without thinking. While it is proving to be an embarrassing transition I couldn’t have learned Spanish without being uncomfortable from time to time. They weren’t kidding when they said the best way to learn a language is to throw yourself out there; it’s amazing what you remember after blushing in front of everyone at the supermarket.

– Jes


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