Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ignorance is Bliss

I love speaking French. I love learning new words, new sayings, and, yes, even new verb conjugations. I love making all the sounds that we English speakers struggle with. I love the feeling I get every time I speak it, when I realize that I can actually carry on a conversation in a language I mostly learned as an adult and that French people actually understand me. I mean, speaking French is just plain fun! Unfortunately, nothing in this life is perfect, and in addition to being fun, speaking French - or any foreign language, for that matter - can be endlessly frustrating. There are the embarrassing mispronunciations, the times you get cut off by others because you're speaking too slowly, and the words that, no matter how many times you learn them, you can never remember. But of all the foreign language-learning frustrations that exist, one above all others conspires to endlessly and mercilessly drive me slowly insane: the inability to hear my own accent.

Accents can be charming, funny, cute, or fascinating. There are those that have a stereotypical accent (You know that French chef in Ratatouille? Some people over here actually sound like that.), while others have an accent that is all their own. What's more, your accent can sound differently to different people. I've had people tell me that I have a strong and typically American accent, that I have my own "Tanya Accent," that I have the tiniest of accents and could I tell them what region in France I'm from, and that I have absolutely no accent at all. I have no way of knowing who is right, but I'm enough of a realist to know that it's probably not the latter.

The worst part of not being able to hear your accent is that, unlike other aspects of the language - vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation - understanding how your accent sounds is not something you can work on. No matter what you do, you'll always be the only one who can't hear it. It's a problem without a solution, and it drives me crazy! But maybe it's better this way. Maybe not being able to hear your accent is what makes you continue to speak a foreign language. Maybe if we knew what we really sounded like we'd be too embarrassed to go on. Yeah, maybe it's better this way. If I sound like an American version of the chef in Ratatouille I don't want to know anything about it.


Nomadic Matt said...

why don't you tape record yourself! :)

and i did love that movie!!!

Anonymous said...

Hey Tanya, I understand all what you said, from the embarrassing mispronunciations to the words you never remember! It's the same for all languages and you'll always find people to remind it to you :) BUT I have to tell you : I'm French-Moroccan, French is my 1st language, and sometimes, people tell me that I have an accent (!?) when I speak! Weird, surely! ... An enigma that I never never never resolved, so just keep speaking, I know you do it really well ;) k.