Learning in Québec

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I'm someone who began learning French when I was 53. I took a BA in French at 60 but wasn't happy with my level of comprehension (though I read very well). So, having really become comfortable with Spanish only by living on the Mexican border, I'm spending more time in Québec and near the border of Quebec, in Vermont, to see if I can do that here with French. I want to encourage others to do the same.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

As I sit to write in my tiny apartment, someone on the radio mentions Austin, Texas, and South by Southwest, in very good French. (I think she’s a vocalist from Winnipeg, not in a francophone province; wish I could tell you her name.)

By coincidence, I had Austin on my mind as I was just about to put here something by Austin’s grand old man of poetry, Albert Huffstickler, à propos of my attempt to learn French, so late and with such difficulty, though he’s addressing something else:

I Still Don’t Know the Language

I think you learn it at a certain age or not at all –
social talk, those well-meant, near-meaningless words
that bridge the chasm of adolescence.
If you don’t learn them then, you tend to go through life
lugging your own portable existential void,
a do-it-yourself alienation kit,
not for want of the ability to communicate important things
but purely for the lack of trivia.
This is not a minor matter.
Your life then becomes, to a greater extent than others,
shaped by the people you can talk to
or those who will do the talking for you.
I once married a woman who was never at a loss for words
and, to a greater extent than I realized at the time,
for that very reason.
It really is like not knowing a language –
that casual all-weather language that makes
your day-to-day living easier,
binds your days together smoothly
without those highs of contact and the lows of isolation.
Somewhere I know it’s just a trick
but a trick that has to be learned at a certain age,
a trick I never mastered.

Albert Huffstickler (1927-2002)
written August 15, 1989, Austin

Oh well, Huff. I am approximately a woman of a certain age, as the French say -- une femme d’un certain âge – so perhaps I can still hope to master this trick of language.

Today there’s snow and wind and beauty. Il fait de la neige; il fait du vent; il fait de la beauté. (On dit Il fait beau. I know.)


  1. Sylvia:

    Always beautiful to have Huff's cogent, insightful, spot-on words.


  2. I'm mute before these machines, wondering what and how my response matters: this is to let you know that a reading and rereading of Huff happened this morning.


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