So, I was thinking to myself whilst walking through town (with a baguette, naturellement), just what is it to be French? Qu'est ce qu'un francais?
It's all very well sitting in a classroom, learning grammar rules off by heart, memorising conjugations, tenses and moods, and phrases for essays, but it's a completely different thing to be French. Learning a language is one thing, learning a culture... no, not learning, learning to integrate into a different culture... well, that's something else!
In the UK, to be honest, my French lessons were starting to bore me. Endless grammar rules, exercises and presentations on fixed themes? No thank you. What I really love about studying French, what made me chose to take it at University level, is the language. The language that is spoken in France, that is constantly evolving, flowing, changing. Languages are alive. Languages are not just in textbooks. Languages are interaction, language is communication, but language is so much more than that. Language is power. With languages, you can get your message across to millions of people who speak differently, who write differently and who's culture is totally different, yet deep down, inside, we're all the same. Language connects people across the world and encourages exchanges of culture, of knowledge. Pidgin languages are languages created for people to communicate when their languages are different. Syntax and vocabulary are spliced together in an attempt just to communicate, to get your point across. Pidgins came from trading colonies mostly, and some have evolved into fully-fledged languages (Creoles) as a by-product.
So, this proves that we all have a desire, no, a need to communicate, and be understood. Languages are so powerful. If you have language skills, bloody well use them! Find someone who speaks that language, go for coffee with them and exchange stories, cultures, differences... you will learn some incredible things. Languages bridge the gap between people who live on the other side of the world. Languages are incredible.
When you learn a language, yes, you're learning words, and structures, and grammar, but it's so much more than that, to fully understand the subtle nuances of a language, you really, undoubtedly have to know the culture and the setting in which certain words or phrases are or are not used. Translation of just words is no good (see any on-line translating machine for proof of this), you need to have an in-depth cultural knowledge as well as linguistic knowledge to really be a good, and accurate translator.
I was bored studying French at Uni back home, I'll admit it, but here... oh my goodness. Here I am revelling in the glory of things that seemed so utterly tedious back home. Subjunctives are almost natural to me now, just from hearing them so often, on the bus on the way home I'll be thinking of how to tell my host family about my day, comparing uses of tense and mood, practising my conjugations and generally running a million things through my head. Basically, I'm living French, living and breathing it, rather than just studying it from a textbook. I've made it come alive, and languages work so much better like that. Languages are interactive. There's only so much you can learn from a textbook. France has re-ignited my passion for languages, and for French, and France, so much so that I really don't want to leave in May.
That said, I'm not saying that I don't miss home, my friends, family and wonderful Timmy more than I can even put into words... but it actually gets easier the longer I spend here, because I'm feeling so much more at home here than I did when I first arrived. My French has drastically improved, especially my spoken French, just from being totally immersed in it. It will be coming back with a bump when I return to the UK, I actually felt rude speaking English when I arrived back in the UK for Christmas, I'd been so used to speaking French all the time that it just didn't feel right.
A very rambly ramble, for which I apologise, but I'm not apologising for my linguist-geekery, because that can only be a good thing for a degree in Linguistics with French ;)