I grew up with french all around me. An old french town nestled in the Alberta prairies wrapped around a french immersion school with teachers and fellow students from Quebec. I read, wrote and spoke with an easy fluency that carried me far in my travels through Europe. In fact, my love of travel was ignited through a school trip to France when I was 17. French was as much a part of my life as English was, in those days. But that part of me has withered over the years. Withered, perhaps, but not died and living in the officially and authentically bilingual town of Moncton these last few days has reawakened the french part of my soul. Last night, I even dreamed in french.
Speaking another language is not just a process of translating english thoughts into another language. Many who don’t speak another language don’t always understand that. When you learn something “as a second language” it is often taught to provide you with the ability to translate what you want to say to another language, not how to speak naturally in that language. To some extent, my definition of fluency is the ability to think in that other language. The subconscious level of that is dreaming. When I dream in french, I know that that part of my brain is active and taking hold, at least sometimes, of the thinking part of my brain. Here in Moncton I am listening to native speakers speaking from the heart in their own language and each and every speaker gets easier to understand as my french self recognizes a fellow and wakes just a little bit more. It is with awe that I watch natural bilingual orators who switch seamlessly between the languages as they speak. And it is with giddy pleasure that I follow completely and even begin to see the beauty of the interplay.
Now to be honest, french has not left my life. I still have french speaking friends who, after a few pints, will put up with my stumbling attempts to speak. My kids are learning french in school and require support. And most importantly, we as a family often speak french together to help develop the language. But even the quartier francaise you don’t hear french spoken so naturally. You don’t start every conversation with <<Hello, Bounjours>> as you suss out which language someone would prefer to speak to you in. There is the downside of a preponderance of slashes, dashes and half sentences splattered all over public signage, but to me that is a small price to pay for the beauty that is a bilingual community.
Il me semble que n’importe ou j’irai, je trouvera quelque choses qui me ressouvient d’ou je viens. Ca fait long temp que j’ai parler, écouter, ou meme penser en français. Je veux bien remerciez la ville de Moncton pour la chance et pour sa hospitalité généreux. A tous, bon jours, et ce soir, je vous souhaites une rêve dans une autre langue.