Thursday, May 03, 2007

vocabulary lessons

I have decided to learn French.

The Mathematician and I are going to France in a few weeks, so I want to learn the language. I have become quite good at parroting the childish restaurant Spanish that Luis, Bibbiana, and Sylvia, the Columbian bussers that I work with at Toro, teach me on nights when the restaurant is slow. This has me convinced that I must be secretly "good at languages", that perhaps there is some sort of latent linguistic genius locked up inside of me, just dying to get out and start yapping unencumbered in a Latin tongue. So I have decided that it's time to bite the bullet and learn a Latin tongue. I have six weeks--we'll see if it pans out.

I took French in junior high and high school, and am hoping that even if I'm not an undiscovered linguistic savant, what I used to know will all come back to me like magic if I study really hard before our trip. So, the Mathematician and I took an Immersion for Travellers class this weekend at the BCAE with a fabulous woman named Nancy Winston (highly recommended!) and now I feel more confident in my abilities...even if the only phrase I could muster during our passe compose exercise on Sunday afternoon was:

Il a loue ses chaussures!

Literally this means "he has rented his shoes". But hey, the conjugation was right! Bon, c'est tres bien!

So, in light of my new found hobby (since between writing a book, working as a publicist, waiting tables, and freelance writing I have LOADS of time on my hands), I've been thinking a lot about words lately, and thought I'd post about the treatment of the word "blonde" in a few other languages:

En Francais, blonde is...well, blonde. Actually, now is a good time to note that "blonde" is technically the incorrect English spelling of this term. It should be "blond", sans the extra 'e' at the end, or at least that's what spellcheck thinks. I have chosen the spelling with the extra 'e' because, quite simply, it looks prettier to me than 'blond'. It is also interesting to note that the word 'blond(e)' did not appear in English until approx. 1481, and is believed to derive from the Old French term blont which meant "a colour midway between golden and light chestnut". The word was reintroduced into English in the 17th century from French, and was until recently still felt as French (thanks, Wikipedia.) But what did they call yellow-haired women before there was blonde?

En Italiano, blonde is bionda. I did not have to look this word up on to learn it. I learned in Florence, when Marissa and I went for a drink on our own one evening, sans Le Mathematician. As you may recall from this post, Italianos tend to be very friendly to women who are unaccompanied by a man. One Italiano was so enthusiastic with his friendliness, that his exuberance caused me to jump clear out of my skin with fright: "Que BIONDA, mamma mia!!!" he screamed as we passed him on the street. "Bionda means blonde," Marissa said. "See, I told you Italian men like blondes! Put that in your book!"

En Espanol, the word for blonde is rubio. In Columbian Espanol, the word is mona, which Luis was so kind to point out to me is also the word for "monkey" in his home country. "Monkey," I said, "are you sure? Blonde and monkey mean the same thing? Are you pulling my leg" Quickly I realized that some slang and colloquialisms are just impossible to explain to non-native speakers of your language, and should simply be accepted at face value, like the phrase "pulling my leg."

Blonde, bionda, monas, oh my! There you have it, mes amies, blonde in trois langues.

Now I just need to figure out how to say "undercover".


Elana said...

Hello -

I notice you took the Immersion course at the BCAE with Ms. Wilson. I'm trying to determine if I should take this class or Beginning French I. I have VERY LITTLE French knowledge but would like to become conversant (reading and perfect grammar isn't as important to me as being able to hold a conversation in French).

Would you think the course you took is suitable? How was it for people with no French background?

Please feel free to contact me with your views on the course.

Kitty said...

Hi Elana,

I loved the class, but if you're looking to get a real handle on the language I recommend signing on for a six week long beginning course. Ms. Wilson is excellent. It's just that learning language requires time to learn, memorize, practice, and digest. I think it would have been difficult for people with zero french background, though after the course, you'd be able to navigate a basic interaction in a french restaurant and ask for the bathroom, etc.

Bon chance! Good luck with your french studies! It's so fun!

Elana said...

Thanks for your response. Very helpful. Sometimes I wish the BCAE allowed you to email the teachers directly to ask questions like these.