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.

Music recommendation: “La Guerre” by Janequin

I would like to present you a chanson from Clément Janequin, a famous French Renaissance composer. He was one of the first composers who added noises and effects to songs – bird chirps in Le chant des oiseaux; market sellers’ advertising their goods in Les cris de Paris; cannons, trumpets, horses and shouts in La Guerre:

On ChoralWiki you can find the French text and its English translation.

I listened to this piece many times, discovering its many layers: at first I was captivated and amused by the sounds that animate the battle, then amazed by the musical skills of these singers, then by their joy in singing this piece, and then  by the sound of Renaissance French and its nowadays odd pronunciation. It is nice to note that modern Canadian French contains visible traces of Old French – and that makes this song look so unbelievably Canadian to me, especially the last part where the singers shout: Victoire! that they pronounce: Victouére! – it makes me smile, but also think of the centuries that have slowly passed and shaped French language, as a river digs a canyon. I feel connected with the mind of Janequin through the centuries, thanks to the countless people who kept this piece of music alive. Enjoy!

Why I like reading, and how I like to read

Today I started reading a new novel that I picked from the French section of my local library – Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam“, by Amélie Nothomb. After reading several books in English and Italian, mostly in the efficient and clean, almost steel-like prose of technical explanations, I met a rich, singing, poetic French first-person narrative. It gave me more joy than usual, as if I came back home – and I attempted to find out why.

In general, I particularly like reading novels in French because I find that this language can convey so many nuances of expression, it seems to possess such a vast colour palette. When I read in Italian, I can’t find the same depth, not because Italian doesn’t allow it, but because I don’t feel that Italian and French (nor German or English) are completely interchangeable on all topics. I consider them like musical instruments, with their own structure and voice, that makes them especially able to convey the sense and emotions of a piece of music written specifically for them, or their equivalents. You can spot that when you compare Paganini’s Caprices with their piano “translation” written by Franz Liszt:


It also made me compare the musicality of a language in a given text with the movement of an animal. There are texts who move around swiftly and graciously like leopards, without any noise from their steps. Some texts sound exact and articulate like insect legs, moved with precision, almost mechanical in their appearance. Some other texts move around with the cute awkwardness of a foal, that tries hard not to trip, but that shows the seed of its future elegance. I like to pick up a random book from the library and discover, page after page, which kind of movement it has chosen to embody. The topic doesn’t matter much, because I am reading to discover how other people decided to express their thoughts, and this alone fulfills my curiosity.

To finish, here is the step-by-step (literally!) analysis of horse walk, because it matches with how I sometimes feel when I read a book: it is not about the destination of that walk, nor about the context, but it is my analysis of its components one by one, even if they don’t make sense alone – but when I get out of this “analysis mode” and I go back to the full picture, at the expected reading speed, I spot so many more details. Enjoy!


About speaking many languages


Inspired by an hilarious post from MadameZou, I have been thinking on what it means to me to be able to express myself in more than one human language. It is obviously a plus when I am in a big city or at a conference and I can talk to people in a language they feel more comfortable with. I did this juggling more than once and I am quite proud of that, at a technical level.

On a deeper level, there are people with whom I can use two or more languages, so we usually end up using one language for a set of topics and the other(s) for other sets. It happened with a Canadian friend of mine, with whom I speak French when we discuss private stuff, and English for work-related topics and when others are around. I absolutely melt when we switch to French in public for a couple sentences. It is a mark of closeness that is so innocent, yet so profound.

Now that becomes interesting. That lead me to think if I was equally fluent in each language in each topic, and I ended up realising that I am not – even when I am alone, when I write, when I dream, each language allows me a different range of expression, like clothes can allow a different range of motion. Some are closer to me and I feel I can move naturally, others are like a heavy coat or trousers quite too big, shoes that don’t fit my feet. I feel like I am made of four personalities who overlap only partially. English almost perfectly fits my French and Italian, while my German is so hesitant and inaccurate that it is almost a bad copy of myself. I almost fear learning a new language because I would feel so unbearably blocked in my expression.

If I count music and movement among the languages I know, then there are even more interesting observations. I speak music like someone who knew it well at some point, then didn’t practice for a long time. A bit like a old dog which knew a lot of tricks, and when asked, tries with some difficulty to find the movements again, but even when he fails you can notice how skilled he was. With movement it is an open path, I am on the way, hesitantly, but progressing.

Edit and drawing streak preview: my languages as horses – red is Italian, green is English, light blue is French, black is German. The first three are more similar, German is a growing foal.