Learning To Speak

Today’s prompt from the Daily Post is called “Take That, Rosetta!”  It asks the question: “If you could wake up tomorrow and be fluent in any language you don’t currently speak, which would it be? Why? What’s the first thing you do with your new linguistic skills?”

Tricky question.

I mean, I speak French.  I am not perfectly fluent in French.  I was doing pretty well when I was in high school doing higher level French courses and speaking in French with my Grandfather.  But, I haven’t had a French class since the 11th grade and rarely use my French at all now.  In fact, I am embarrassed to speak French because I fear I will look that ridiculous, unless of course the person speaks less English than I speak French, which happens from time to time at work.

So, if I could pick any language, I would pick French.  Because it would be the most useful.  And because given where I grew up and my heritage, I really should speak better French.

But, there is that whole stipulation about it being a languge I don’t currently speak.

This is more challenging.

I feel like I would pick Mandarin because it is probably the next most common language.

With either, I would be thrilled to finally speak to native speakers in  their own language and finally get the depth and wholeness of conversation that comes from talking with someone in their mother tongue.


Tonight, I had a conversation with some friends about language.  One of them teaches from time to time as a substitute in a language school for adults.  Today, she told us about teaching in a class that was for people who had no concept of the English language whatsoever.  As in they didn’t necessarily even know what way to hold the written page in some cases.  It is a lot of pointing and repeating.

Learning a language from the start is tough, especially when the teacher and all of the students speak different languages than you.  It is all about immersion and repetition.

It made me think about how crazy it is to learn language.

Medicine contains a lot of its own language.  In fact, each specialty has its own dialect.  Many words are the same, but there are some different ones or special meanings.  I am still trying to piece together some of the dialect that is Neurology and I have been doing that full time for a month.

I learned to speak French.  But, I had French words in my vocabulary my entire speaking life.  Even then, it was hard. I remember how tough it was when I started Immersion.  And again, my background was better than that of many other kids my age.  Even then, I was still sorting out the finer nuances of the English language and sorting out the intermediate-basics of French.

I did a summer program in the Netherlands and although Dutch does have some English or French appearing words, I was grateful that most people spoke English.  Being in a place where you don’t speak the language can be scary.

I can’t imagine being in a place where I don’t speak the language and nobody else speaks my language either.  Plus, factor in things like being in a new culture and country.

It must be so overwhelming.

When I was in med school, our school had this really awesome program where they would send in first and second year medical students with interpreters to get the medical histories from refugees new to Canada to help facilitate getting them family doctors (because with an interpreter, the visit is twice as long and often these people have complex histories and issues that would be too time consuming without screening and a starting plan).  It was a really eye opening experience for me and I do feel like it made a difference for some of the people.

I remember in one instance, I found out a woman was quite upset and concerned because she was due of her yearly pap smear two months before and nobody had offered one to her yet and she didn’t know where to go.  As it turns out, she had an abnormal pap in the past and had a sister die of cervical cancer and wanted to avoid that.  I got to red flag this issue and she was seen earlier because her concerns (which she was to embarrassed to tell to her case worker) were put out there.

Another time, we saw a whole family with sickle cell who hadn’t seen a specialist and were managing things like painful crises at home with no medications.  They were referred to hematology for assistance with management.

Sometimes, it was as simple as saying everyone was well and that they would just need maintance and preventative care.  Other times, we helped point people to dentists, emergency departments and urgent GP visits, so they could be referred to a specialist.

I feel like it made a difference.

It all wouldn’t have been possible without interpreters.

Language is so important.  We share so much in the human experience, but much of that is communicated with speech.  We take it for granted sometimes.

Pie… Poom!

Patrick showed me this video.  And it makes my life.  Because it is random and in French (don’t worry folks, there are subtitles).  And the use of “poom” always makes me smile.

We tried to recreate it with Jeter.  He was not a fan.  His version of “poom” was more of an annoyed gnaw because I kept trying to play with his paws.

In other happiness, the hospital I work at has a Friday market and this week, there was a vendor there selling a meat pie called tourtiere that I grew up with (or at least in the presence of it, I wasn’t much of a carnivore or pie eater).  At home, it is tough to come by unless we travel to certain areas.  So, finding it in the workplace was pretty mind blowing for me.   I bought it to introduce Patrick to its goodness.  We even topped it with some red pepper jelly (as recommended by the vendor).   It made for delicious Friday night supper and delicious Saturday night supper!  Win!photo


The writing prompt for NaBloPoMo today is “what is the hardest word for you to say?”

This question brought back some bizarre and entertaining memories for me.

First of all, to answer the question, I stuggle with a few words.  A big and obvious one for me is the pronunciation of the word “Tuesday.”  I almost always, unless concentrating rather seriously say “Chewsday.”  I had a friend point this out to me in junior high and I was enraged.  But it is true.  I now work very hard to say it properly.  I fail at least 50% of the time.   And some people point it out each time.  And it is still funny.

February is another one that is rough for me.

Looking back, I can see I got this from my mother.  Who pronounces the two words similarly.  She also really has a rough time with cinnamon, which for her turns into cinnamonmonmonmon.  I can say cinnamon, though.  At least I think.

Medical terms are sometimes a struggle to pronounce too.  All that latin and such.  There are a few words that aren’t spoken they way they look and many that are just ridiculous.  Roentgen, a measure of radiation is one of those weird words.  Or sphygmomanometer, the proper term for a blood pressure cuff.

Patrick and his entire family have a unique way of speaking.  They all say a few words fairly differently and similarly as a collective group.  In fact, one of our international friends asked me where Patrick and his family were from.  And people he met while in Montreal were shocked to discover that I did not have the same “East Coast” accent he did.

My favourite Patrick family-ism is  when they all talk about their pumpkin pie (pronouncing it “punkin”).  I am actually the only one who doesn’t say “punkin.”  And that makes it hilarious to me while everyone else is oblivious.

As evidenced by me and my spouse, there are some learned qualities to pronunciation.  Thus, the typical Newfoundland accent and the traditional Irish accent and such.

There are accent based mispronunciations too… For instance, most people who aren’t native English speakers seem to struggle with my name.  And I struggle with the pronunciation of most Chinese names.  All about the hidden intricacies of language.  I have always marvelled at those people at university convocations that have so much practice in saying the names that they always just get them.  Including the subtle intricacies of language.  Like asking whether I want my last name pronounced the French or English way.  Mind blowing!

I also pick up accents and pronunciations.  I can conscientiously avoid it, but it is a struggle.  The longer I am around a place and people, the more I pick it up.

Sometimes it starts out as mocking, but then it becomes habit.  For instance, I used to say “rull good” instead of really good as a joke.  But now, if I’m not careful, it slips out.  Same as saying “merci” in a very English accent.  And I have been known to throw out a “Yis bye” from time to time (and now, it is rarely appropriate).

My goal is for our children to speak properly.  But, I guess that isn’t entirely up to us.  There is some brain stuff, and coordination stuff and outside sources.  But, I will do my darndest to save my child from saying “chewsday” and “punkin.”

I just hope that one day, I don’t start saying “punkin.”