En francais, s’il vous plait

Next summer, Tim gets to go on a men’s trip to Europe with his father and all of the males on his side of the family. The group will consist of Tim’s father, his brother, a brother-in-law, Tim, and four male children, the youngest of whom is 12 years old. This is a special trip for Tim, who was about 12 when he went to France with his father and grandfather, and visited the Canadian war memorials in France. He remembers that trip fondly.

When the Currell Men and their adjuncts go to Europe next summer, they’ll be visiting England, Germany and France. Each of the adult children has been assigned a country in which to make arrangements for special outings. Tim’s brother, familiar as he is with London, is doing England. Tim’s brother-in-law will do Germany, having spent time there. Tim has been assigned France, because he speaks French.

I’m sorry. I just broke down in a fit of giggles. Tim speaks French, yes, but haltingly, and with much self-deprecating humor and plenty of “franglais;” that is, the awkward combination of French and English. More frequently, he likes to throw out nonsense phrases in French, like “donnez-moi la bicyclette,” using a voice best suited to cartoon montages. He does the best cartoon voices, and we do a lot of giggling. But when I think about him “speaking” French *in* France, this is what I see: a big goofy Canadian pretending to speak French so he can make the kids laugh.

In truth, he does speak French, having learned it from some ridiculously young age (Grade 2?) in Canada, and studied further in high school. He doesn’t think he can speak well, so he’s tentative about doing it in public. Unfortunately, he can’t hide from French forever, especially since the Currell Men et al. are depending on him to help them through Paris.

So a couple of months ago, I convinced Tim to come out with me and practice French in a non-threatening, distraction-free environment, local friendly coffeehouses. Every weekend, we take an hour or so, order the best house brew and converse only in French. The first fifteen minutes are pure nervous giggling, and during that time, we expel all of our “vous etes un grand frommage” (you are a big cheese) phrases, then pick a subject and get down to business.

He is still relying on his Google translator for conjugations and gender agreement, and I’m leafing through my Larousse’s French-English dictionary for those vocabulary words that are just out of reach. But by and large, we’re making progress, and more importantly, building the confidence he’s going to need when the eight of them are wandering around Paris next summer.

He’s an incredibly intelligent man, but to be perfectly honest, Tim’s out of his element with this preparation, since it can’t be done with checklists. This is all material that gets stored in his brain, requiring quick retrieval later. He’s such a linear, analytical guy, task- and achievement-oriented, and speaking a foreign language doesn’t fit into that particular skill set very well. There’s a fluidity of thought required for this, and a lot of listening, and a hefty dose of confidence.

But confidence is something he has. In spades.

So over the next seven months, we’ll continue to practice on weekends, and I may eventually drag him to one of the “French table” events I’ve found for myself. Speaking French with me is one thing, but it will be good for him to be challenged by a more skilled speaker.

But right now, Tim says he is sure he sounds like Inspector Clouseau. It will pass, if only for long enough for him to get through a dinner or two and a tour of the Louvre. He can do this, I know he can. It sure is fun helping him try.Clouseau

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