Learning a new language and culture

As I learned German very late, I missed the opportunity to absorb culture together with language, as I would have done in kindergarten and in school and in everyday life, were I born in a German-speaking place. I notice this gap when I write in cursive, when I sing children’s songs, when I use proverbs and figures of speech – they all come from Italian culture. I’m trying to bridge this gap by reading childrens’ books in my local libraries, and it’s always fascinating. Especially history books that -of course- center on another country. In my mind, history is so deeply connected with the history of my country that I first have to find connections with my own knowledge in order to properly place the events of German history on the time-line.

That’s why I think I can profit from childrens’ books and in general from books-that-explain-things rather than just a dictionary. With only word-to-word translations I would not get the culture inputs that I need to feel more integrated here. On the other hand, some books take their time to explain concepts that I know already, and don’t require that much attention from me. This is in converse the most concentrated and captivating collection of culture insights I picked so far:

Source: m-vg.de

It’s a collection of German idioms, described in their meaning and origin in a short paragraph. Many expressions come from the past, and cite knights, ancient arts and crafts, farming, commerce, construction, old administrative structures. I liked how it gave me another angle of the German culture, not directly like in an history museum or book, but indirectly through many bits and pieces that survived in today’s language. My favourite is “Alles in Butter!” which means “All is OK/safe!”, and comes from the times where merchants transported fine glass manufacts from Italy to Germany, across the Alps on carriages. The risk of breaking would have been very high, if the merchants did not submerge the glasses in liquid butter, then let it become solid and protect the fragile objects from any shock. At destination, the butter was melted again and the glasses taken out and cleaned. Clever and effective!



Ma fenêtre sur la francophonie dans le monde – my window on French spoken around the world

[This is a double-language post, that starts with French.]

New-Map-Francophone World

J’ai rarement l’occasion de parler français à Berlin, non par manque de compatriotes, ni d’évènements en français, mais plutôt par une sorte de timidité. Mon français écrit se porte encore assez bien, mais je parle avec un accent belge/italien assez fort, et il m’arrive de chercher mes mots un peu trop souvent. J’ai pensé de rafraîchir mon oreille en écoutant de la radio par Internet, en forme de podcasts. La beauté du français est sa grande diffusion dans le monde, ce qui m’expose à différentes cultures et accents. Je partage ici ma petite liste de podcasts (que les Canadiens appellent joliment baladodiffusion):

J’aime écouter les voix de Radio Canada, car elles me permettent d’imaginer mieux la vie de ce pays pour moi lointain, mais également si proche grâce à la langue commune. Les problèmes sociaux et politiques ont des racines propres, complexes, que j’apprends à voir en superposant les récits des invités comme les couches de peinture d’un immense tableau. Le même m’arrive en écoutant les histoires de Polynésie, terre de rêve et de conquête pour qui vient de loin comme moi, mais terre des ancêtres et de vie quotidienne pour ses habitants.

Écouter est mon école de respect et d’attention. La radio est comme un livre vivant, où les mots se suivent sans mon intervention. Ma tâche est de le suivre et de comprendre, sans pouvoir les arrêter pour poser une question. La magie me prend quand je me sens comme un bout de bois dans le courant d’un fleuve, je vois ce que le fleuve voit, à sa vitesse.

I have little chance to speak French in Berlin, not for lack of fellow speakers nor of events, but for some sort of shyness. My written French is still quite good, but when I speak I have this strong Belgian/Italian accent, and I have to stop a bit too often to search words. Therefore I decided to keep my ear trained by listening to French podcasts from around the world, in order to experience different cultures and accents. I share here my list of podcasts (that French Canadians nicely call baladodiffusion):

I like to listen to Radio Canada voices, because they allow me to better figure out how is life in that country, so remote for me, but also so near thanks to the common language. Social and political problems have their own complex roots, that I learn to see from the combination of the guests’ stories, that become combined like the pencil strokes of a massive painting. The same happens when I listen to stories from Polynesia, the land of dreams and conquest for someone who comes from far away like me, but the land of elders and of everyday life for its inhabitants.

Listening is my practice of respect and attention. The radio is like a live book, where words flow without my intervention. My task is to follow them and try to understand, without the chance to stop for a question. Magic grabs me when I feel like a log in a river’s current, I see what the river sees, at its same speed.