When I visited the U.S. this June, I was bombarded by nearly everyone with this same question: “So, are you bilingue now?” This question is actually difficile to answer. I want to say, “Oui!” I really do. I have daily conversations in French and most of the time I understand 100% of what’s being said (and people understand me, too). Even mon chéri thinks I am bilingue.
I’ve always dreamed of being bilingue. But, then there’s the perfectionist in me who always has to have the last word. She never fails to remind me that there are certain expressions I use in English that I can’t even begin to translate into French and there are others that are just so naturel in English (even though I know the translation). How can I consider myself bilingue if I still form sentences like this: “I mean really? Comment le gouvernement peut réagir comme ça ?” The interesting thing is that I can translate “I mean…” just fine into French, but the expression itself is not naturel, so, of course, it would come out in English. Normalement, this happens at home when I talk with mon chéri. Somehow in publique, I can restrain myself…but, it’s difficile. I can no longer count the number of times I’ve said, “ditto,” during conversations with French friends and then had to quickly translate it. This also happens when I speak English – I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “C’est pas grave,” and had to translate that.
On a positive note, I’m on the track to overcoming this issue in not knowing or having enough fluency in switching from English and French expressions. One lovely, sunny day in Mai, I was at the Librarie de Provence on the Cours and I came across a dictionnaire: Slang: Dictionnaire bilingue de l’argot d’aujourd’hui. I bought it in a heartbeat. It’s helped a little with the translation of certain expressions. The cool thing about this dictionnaire is that it includes British and American expressions, so, I’ve been learning some British expressions in addition to the French ones (double score!).
What makes someone ‘bilingue‘? There’s my définition, there’s the Oxford’s définition, and then there’s your définition. Which one of us is right? Honnêtement, there is no “right” answer. Oxford believes that an individual is bilingue when he/she speaks 2 languages fluently.
But, “fluently”, like bilingue, is one of those hard-to-translate terms. So, that brings us back to square one…and poses the question: Are we even “fluent” in our native tongues? For example, in London, England, I found myself baffled at times when people tried to have a conversation in English with me. How was I to know that the term “cooker” meant oven?
In America, we do not say, “I speak American.” “American” is not a language; it’s an ethnicité, an identité. So, in the end, we (British, Americans, etc…) all speak “English”. With this in mind, I definitely consider myself fluent in English. I can also understand why mon chéri considers me fluent in French: There’s always going to be that one word or expression you didn’t know until you came across it.
5 Signs You Know You’re Bilingue (or close to it):
- You dream in both languages. Hell, in some of the dreams I’ve been having lately, I’ll be speaking French and mon chéri will be speaking English. Normalement, and in réalité, we both speak French to each other. It’s really only when we’re stateside when we speak English to each other.
- You find yourself responding to other languages with your second language. This happens to me all the time. One time, in the states, I was at a restaurant mexicain. I was with friends that speak fluent Spanish, so, the waiter started talking to us in Spanish. My Spanish is not very good, but in a restaurant situation, I can understand what’s being said/asked. When it was my turn, I responded to his question…but, it wasn’t in Spanish, non, I responded in French. He gave me a funny look, which is when I realized what just happened. The same thing happened to me when I was ordering sushi at a Japanese restaurant. This time, the waiter spoke English; however, it was heavily accented. I responded in French. This is embarrassant, but it’s also cool because it shows how much progression I’ve made in my second language.
- Friends and family in your home country start commenting on the slight changes in your native accent. Back in June (2015), when I was stateside, a family member mentioned that my English accent has changed a bit! I’m still not sure if I’m horrified or proud by this. After all, English is my native language. But, does this mean that I’ve gained fluency in French since I’m experiencing language transfer from French into my native tongue? It’s not that easy to determine, but all of the SLA (Second Language Aquisition) theorists agree that this is a good start to becoming fluent.
- You have intelligent, deep conversations in both languages. This includes sujets such as religion, politics, films, poetry, art… I’m still working on my teaching vocabulaire (the concepts are the same in English, but the vocabulaire is not), but aside from that I have conversations like these often. To be frank, my friends and family in the states who have not had one education class do not know many of these terms in their native tongue, which makes sense since it’s not their spécialité.
- In conversation, you can easily switch between the two langauges. Aside from certain expressions, I switch easily all the time. After all, I speak in French to mon chéri (and to his famille and to French friends) all day, but when I talk to my mom, for example, I switch to English. Also, sometimes, mon chéri and I decide to practice his English, so, we’ll switch from French to English. And then there are the times with my English speaking friends that also speak French…We tend to go back and forth all of the time.
Because I love making listes, I decided to mark the 5 top signs that define a person who is bilingue (in my opinion, of course). According to the above liste, I fit the bill.
Since becoming bilingue, I’ve realized that la vie, or life, is so much better! But, what about being bilingue makes la vie better? I have only one answer: Being able to communicate with that much more of the world’s population is incroyable. It’s opened my eyes to another culture and other ways of living – including other ways of presenting yourself and your opinions. In addition, it has enabled me to have conversations with others when the only common language we have between us is our second (or third, or…) language (believe it or not, not everyone speaks English). In fact, being bilingue is only the beginning…
This is part of a blogging challenge: Topics ranging from A-Z. You can follow my challenge by clicking on the links below: