An ordinary and typical scene in Québec City.

Sitting on a park bench, I enjoy the charming Québec City’s automn beauty, my daughters are playing near by. Two chinese tourist ladies are sitting on a bench beside ours, one of them returns my smile and says something that I don’t get.

– Do you speak french? I ask.

She smiles and blushes, no she doesn’t. The very idea that she could speak french seems totally crazy.

– Do you speak english? I ask.

Her face all lights up, she is happy to find at last someone to communicate with.

– Yes, I do, she says, enthusiastically.

She looks like a grand mother, I tell her something about the children joyfully playing. She doesn’t get what I am saying. I repeat, more slowly, using simplier words. She seems to understand. She mumbles back something about the children. We smile to each other. It is a nice day in the old city.

She speaks english all right. But when she speaks english, she has to struggle to have her mouth produce sounds that are akward and alien to her, she has to constantly scan her memory to find the right word and sometimes, the wrong word comes up. She doesn’t understand what one says at first, one has to repeat, words don’t make sense right away. Speaking is so strenuous that she gives up. Speaking english, she experiences all the symptoms of aphasia.

While others are delighted that we have at last a common international language, I wonder if aphasia isn’t the future of mankind.

6 réflexions au sujet de « An ordinary and typical scene in Québec City. »

  1. vplus

    She looks like a grand mother and still she can speek English. That’s already good. With her age, it’s likely that she didn’t have a decent English education. And the next generation, for sure they will speek good English. So what’s your point here?

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    1. Michel Patrice Auteur de l’article

      Thank you for taking some time to comment. (Are you the vplus from No Dogs or Anglophones?)

      My general point is that, struggling to speak a foreign language, one experiences the symptoms of aphasia. I am sure you got that obvious point. I experienced it myself speaking english and spanish. I witnessed it countless times from people of all ages, trying to speak english or french.

      The similarities between struggling to speak a foreign language and aphasia were pointed out by a linguist whose articles changed my mind about those anglos who lived in Québec without ever learning french (and, of course, about those francophones in Québec who never learned english…)

      My more specific point is that people often overestimate their english skills and people often think that every body in the world speaks english, which is far from reality. This is, of course, the blatantly anglophobic agenda that you, wise man, suspected.

      Have you ever experienced this foreign language use induced aphasia yourself? You obvioulsy speak english, what other language(s) do you speak?

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  2. vplus

    Yes, it’s me. English and French are not my mother tongue but I can communicate in both. And yes, we (Asian people) have more difficulties learning a western language and to some extent have the problem of aphasia.

    But have you ever visited an Asian country? You will find young people there speak relatively good English and more importantly are very open to it. There are many reasons for that, money is one, globalization, internet, films, music, ..etc. And you know, practice makes perfect.

    So my point is, if a grandmother could manage to speak English, the young people for sure will have much less problems. While it’s exaggerating to say everyone speaks English, the situation can only improve (and actually, much better than say 20 years ago).

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    1. Michel Patrice Auteur de l’article

      vplus,

      Would you be by any chance chinese? If so, I would like to have your opinion on an article I read. Two quotes :

       » La plupart des Occidentaux ne se doutent pas qu’il existe des langues si cohérentes que la notion même de verbe irrégulier, de pluriel exceptionnel, de dérivation aberrante y est tout simplement impensable. Parmi ces langues on compte le chinois, le vietnamien… et l’espéranto. Ces trois langues ont ceci de commun, et de différent de toutes les langues indo-européennes, qu’elles sont composées d’éléments rigoureusement invariables qui se combinent entre eux à l’infini. À ceux qui parlent une langue comme celle-là, l’idée que ‘premier’ ne soit pas dérivé de ‘un’ ou que, pour désigner les diverses modulations de la première personne du singulier, il faille apprendre toute une série de mots comme je, me, moi, mon, ma, mes, mien paraît bizarre et incompréhensible. […] En chinois, ‘mon’, ‘ma’, ‘mes’,‘mien’ etc. se disent tout simplement wode, ce qui est la forme adjective (-de) de wo, ‘je’. »

      And

       » Au bout de 2000 heures d’anglais (5 heures par semaine pendant 10 ans), le Japonais et le Chinois moyens sont incapables de s’exprimer de façon réellement opérationnelle dans la langue de Shakespeare ou du Wall Street Journal, ils n’en sont qu’au stade du balbutiement. »

      (If interested in the full thing : http://claudepiron.free.fr/articlesenfrancais/langueoccidentale.htm)

      I am a little skeptical about the second part. Five hours a week for ten years seems a little long to me. What is your experience?

      You wrote : « And yes, we (Asian people) have more difficulties learning a western language… » If you tought that I was making fun of asians struggling with english, you misunderstood me, that wasn’t my point.

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  3. vplus

    Well, it’s well-known that Asian people are struggling with English. I don’t have any problems when people tell me that.

    The first paragraph is a bit shallow but somewhat correct. The differences are: western languages are morphology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morphology_(linguistics)) while eastern languages are analytic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isolating_language#Analytic_languages.
    Because of this big difference, Asian people tend to have a lot of difficulties learning western languages, (I bet you can expect the same thing if you try to learn an eastern language).

    For the second paragraph, a part from the above things, the problem in China is the quality of teaching English while in Japan, it might have something to do with the nature of Japanese society.

    Anyway, in China secondary students (esp. in rural areas, for children from middle class families in urban areas, English was already an important subject for long) may not speak good English but somehow surprisingly (or unsurprisingly!) university students speak much better English. Private classes and tutors are very common. Asian people, known to be pragmatic, will do what ever they can just to add one more plus to their CVs. Knowing English becomes a must, even quite a few people will never use English at work.

    In Japan, as the society becomes more open to English, young people already speak relatively good English. And I just repeat my point here: things are getting better because of the globalization.

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    1. Michel Patrice Auteur de l’article

      Some languages are morpholic and some are analytic, I find these things interesting. I learned a lot about languages (including french, my own native language) reading Claude Piron. I learned english long ago and I don’t really remember to process of learning it.

      I will be away for a week, So I will not be able to carry this interesting discussion much further. Thank you for taking timr to comment.

      Au plaisir d’échanger avec toi plus tard ici ou sur No Dogs.

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