TTC Trips 5 of 6
Wednesday 21st June I travelled by subway train from College to Bloor/Yonge, then to Kipling. I headed upstairs to catch a 49B Bloor bus, but after ten or more minutes with all sorts of 44, 45, 30 and 192 buses stopping at the quay, gave up on the 49 (I could see it parked on the far kerb but without a bus driver) and chose to walk off the end of the platform to cut my losses and walk up the hill to Dundas Street.
Half-way up the hill I was when the 49B shot by me, engine roaring, flat-out through the Dundas Street intersection and up Aukland road at high speed. Obviously the driver had been slacking off somewhere and was now behind schedule.
As was I.
I went for a walk in the park that runs north from Marie Curtis Park. My friend spotted a large red-winged (scarlet, I should say) butterfly on a tree trunk.
I took this shot with my phone’s zoom, because I was afraid that if I walked closer I’d frighten away the butterfly.
I need a better zoom lens, I know ...
I took part as one of a hundred volunteers in a study to compare the brain and sill set and memory of two groups of people: monolingual and bi-lingual.
A question asked at the interview was “Do you know more than one language?”. Well, yes. I have some French at my command.
“Are you fluent in French?” which caused me to expound on time. Everyone is fluent in French who can say “Merci!”, because that will convince any french person that one speaks French. If only for one second.
Of course if you can also manage “Bonjour messieurs”, you can then add two seconds and claim to be “fluent in French for three seconds”. Me, I have said recently that I can rabbit on for a minute in french without being detected as a foreigner, so I say “I am fluent in French for a minute”, but even there I have to say that this is provided I am allowed to talk on my own topics using my own vocabulary.
There are four skills in communication: Speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The first two are natural to humans, and I recommend Steven Pinker’s book “The language Instinct”. The second two are un-natural and have to be taught in school.
I say that I am pretty good in speaking french, especially for everyday topics such as directions, ordering food at the market, and making polite but simple conversation about where I am from. I can understand french people providing there is no background noise, they speak clearly, and use the vocabulary to be expected of a six-year old (me!). I can read French, a newspaper, say, and get a good feeling for what has been written. I have poor skill in writing french, especially with accents and verb conjugations, never having received formal training.
So I say that my fluency levels descend from Speaking, through listening, reading, and finally writing.
The people running the study classified me as bi-lingual.
Which led me to realise that there is a strange fifth sense of fluency: Accent.
For the French words that I know I am hyper-fluent, because I have a musical memory. I can remember songs from my childhood, sixty years ago. I have memorized most of Haydn’s Mass in D Minor (The Nelson), and know most of the libretto of all of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas, pop songs from 1956 through to about 1976, Dozens of hymns. And I mean the tunes, the words, and the tiddley-om-pom-poms of the orchestration. It is a gift.
So I have memorized the tone and cadence of French expressions, and when I regurgitate them I am musically perfectly equivalent to a Parisien gentleman.
And herein lies a problem. One of the first things I learned to say forty years ago was “Excusez-mois; je ne suis pas Français; je ne parle pas Français”, and I learned to say it so perfectly that people thought I was pulling their leg. If a stranger stops me and asks the time of day, I can dash it off perfectly, and the stranger attempts in normal (to me high-speed) french to engage me. I am totally lost.
It is as if I am a robotic time-telling machine. Good for the time and the weather (He is French!), but with no ability to discuss French politics (He is an idiot!).
In 2016 I spent three weeks exploring Poissy and its surrounding towns. I seemed to get on well with the locals.
I think the time has come to declare myself bilingual, if not fluent.