Kathy’s sister Chris arrived Wednesday for a week’s visit. Today it poured so we stayed in town and took her to Aix’s Granet Museum. It’s actually two museums in one because of the lovely and well-curated separate collection of Swiss art collector, gallery director and painter Jean Planque, housed in la chapelle Penitents Blancs, a converted church.
Planque wrote about the connection between music and art, and Chris carried the conversation out the front door.
“I think if you’re musical it can help in learning a language,” she said as we left the collection, which along with the Granet costs about $7.50.
My answer was “yes, but …”
“It can help with your accent, but it doesn’t necessarily help with comprehension,” I told her. At least in French, and probably in other languages.
Why? Because French is a language filled with elisions. Words glide together, and I’m coming to realize that unless I in some ways see what I hear, I can get easily lost. I gave Chris this example: “D’ou venez vous.” The literal translation is from where come you, or, to recast in colloquial English, where are you from?
It’s a pretty simple question in any language — when you read it. But the first time someone asked me “d’ou venez vous,” I stood paralyzed. Dew? Do? What is this French word, I asked myself? It never entered my head that “d’ou” was the contraction of de (of or from) and ou (where). And so I stood like a deer in the headlights, a blank expression on my face.
There are many such examples. Take the bottom line of store sign pictured here. It reads: sans engagement de durée. Hear it read, however, and it will sound like sanzengagement, one word with a z. That’s just one more small example. There are zillions.
So when I listen now, I try to visualize — to think of what I’ve read and seen written. It helps me understand.
Of course, when all else fails, which it often does, I can always smile, nod and say, mais oui.