English. Being a native English speaker feels like being in simultaneous possession of both the biggest boon and biggest bane. There’s no doubt it’s the most useful language to have on an international level, but it has also proved something of an impediment to my progress in French.
It is mind-blowing that a language I so take for granted is such an asset. Much as I am determined to master French, I know I can still work anywhere in the world simply by virtue of speaking English. My life as an exchange student here is infinitely easier with it; I can connect to a far greater range of people than with any other language, and activities involving foreign students always seem to be conducted in English. Even with those rare few who do not (really) speak it (because everyone does a bit), if I really cannot find the word in French, they will understand if I use English.
So, what’s the problem, I hear you ask? Indeed, I have no real right to complain. Yet, I do. The French-as-a-foreign-language-student in me protests. I did not go to such effort, not to mention expense (it is Switzerland after all), to uproot myself and embark on life abroad…to speak English. I did not need to leave England for that. Much as I am appreciative of the relative ease of life here thanks to having English, and I still prefer to have it than not, it will not be worthwhile having come if I do not leave fluent in French.
I count myself lucky, too. I will be here for the full school year, while a number of my friends are here for just one semester. They are already expressing concern that they have not had enough time to improve, or their progress has not been as fast as expected. I think this is a sentiment felt across the board by all my exchange buddies in all different countries. It is absolutely essential to force yourself into situations where English is not an option; much, much more easily said than done, especially with a language as pervasive as English.
Speaking English here (much like other places I’m sure) is considered “cool”. Lots of modern slang terms are English. This annoys me somewhat. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was “cool” to speak proper English and to be able to quote Shakespeare, but in fact it’s “cool” to be able to swear in English and imitate what you see in brainless blockbuster movies. The ever-invasive influence of American pop culture. Sigh.
Many words in the French language are English. I’ve already discussed this, but it actually irritates me a little. I feel it taints the language, and L’Academie Française would agree with me. I love English, but it feels wrong to be speaking it in another language; I find anglicisms frankly bizarre, almost a desecration of la belle langue francaise. I prefer to speak one language at a time. Mind you, I am the worst when it comes to speaking franglais, I do it constantly, so it’s a bit rich coming from me.
And yet. And yet most of my best friends here are English speakers and I would not trade them for any amount of French practice; I am lucky to have them in my life. Even though I do need more French practice. This is why it is both boon and bane. Pissing and moaning aside, I am still ever-grateful to be an anglophone, and to have at my disposal, to play with as I write these very words, this most wonderful, rich and accessible of languages.