French Language Blues

French Dude

Easily in the top 5 most embarrassing facts about myself is that I was born in Montreal but cannot fluently speak French today. I had it back then, but it slowly drained away from me after I moved as I neglected to take French immersion courses all throughout elementary and high school like a Goddamn fool. Now, it’s relevant to my interests and career to learn the language, and it’s tough. I still hate that everything has to have a gender! I hate that so many words in English come from French words, but some don’t, so you look like an idiot when you say an English-only word in a forced French accent in front of your coworkers and they laugh at you. I also think it sucks how uncultured it makes me feel as a Canadian to not know our second language, which led me to a painful truth and a horrifying contradiction.

Sometimes I feel like Canada’s excessive commitment to bilingualism is a bit embarrassing. Two guys standing next to each other saying the same things in a different language, repeating each other, one after the other, is a silly image. The history of French people settling in Canada is both horrific and embarrassing. The inhumane treatment of Aboriginal peoples and the way the French constantly got clowned by their equally monstrous English rivals is pathetic on every level. The horrifying truth I realized though, is that because of those actions, because the dominant powers in Canada spent so much time suppressing the cultures that were already here, all we’re left with on the surface is this amorphous, “polite” and small version of America that also speaks French. We killed our cultures, and all we’re left with is this bilingual husk. Almost no one referencing Canada in popular culture has a coherent or remotely accurate take on what Canadians are. The only solid handle anyone has on us is the bilingual thing. The French part of Canada, the part that has been such an issue for me for all these years, the part I both envy and resent, is all Canada is known for culturally.

With that realization, I’ve been fighting to learn the language for a while now. I’m taking Rosetta stone, I’m watching French shows with English subtitles and English shows with French subtitles, I’ve tried speaking French to people more in day to day conversations, but all I’m left with is this feeling that I’ve missed my window. Learning a language at a late age is tough when you’re juggling work and procrastination, but my career, my sense of place as a Canadian, and my pride are on the line. It’s just… hard ya know? I wish there was this easy way to learn French, by which I mean I wish there was a low-effort way to do it, but I know that something as heavy as learning another language is never easy, and isn’t meant to be easy. If I wanna be more cultured I gotta put in the work, and that means rolling up my sleeves and not writing pointless articles about this. Ah yes… that will be the justification I use to end this blog post here, not laziness, but me needing to get right back on that learning French thing. Perfect.

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