Listening to – and Learning to Visualize – la Langue Francais

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 IMG_1073museums 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:   IMG_1067sans 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.


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