Thursday, April 24, 2008

Learning French with Sol the Clown

Us kids had to watch a lot of extremely surreal Quebecois "instructional French" programs in public school, supposedly to teach us that French people are very strange. Seriously, there really did seem to be a "Quebecois style of humour" that relied more heavily on funny faces and slapstick than our "Southern Ontario" style did.

One of the shows we watched constantly was "Parlez-Moi" starring Marc Favreau, French hobo-clown. There are several complete episodes on YouTube, but I'm sad to say that the one where he eats Dracula's cheese cannot be embedded.

Watch just a bit of this program to understand why most English Canadians retained so little French into their adult years. As my co-worker Dave said when he saw these, "it's obvious that the French didn't want us to learn their language."


Kimber said...

Reading this entry gave me an unpleasant memory jolt - grade 9 French class. Ugh. How I hated Sol and his big, wet lips. He was degoulasse!

Adam Thornton said...

My favourite moment in the John Waters film "Polyester": Edith Massey insults the owner of a high-class boutique by saying "You are a real couchon, and that means PIG!"

I hated Sol as well. I much preferred Brigitte La Bonne ("Ooh la la, qui est?")

Anonymous said...

he sounds like ricardo montalbon

Anonymous said...

So Canadians, by default, OUGHT to be bi-lingual?
What about Americans? How many languages do they pick up?

Curious and self-satisfied tri-linguist. :)

Adam Thornton said...

A sort of low-rent version of Ricardo Montalbon. :)

Adam Thornton said...

What are your other two languages, JJ?

Yes, Canadians are supposed to be bilingual; we do have two official languages. English kids take compulsory French classes up until grade 9 (at least when I was there) and I assume that French kids do something similar.

In reality, though, you won't meet a huge number of people outside Quebec (and its surrounding area) who speak fluent French. You must be bilingual to do many government jobs, and all of our packaging is in both French and English (according to the vitamin bottle on my desk, they're a "Formule de vitamines et mineraux multiples"), and so are many of the highway signs in larger cities...

...but I suspect most of us English kids forgot the French we learned, which is a shame because it would be good to know.

Americans, however, have only one official language, though Spanish occasionally get proposed as the other one (until Republicans start frothing at the mouth). I don't think anybody seriously expects them to change this anytime soon, though I don't follow the issue that closely.

Adam Thornton said...

PS: The historical, simmering conflict between French and English in Canada is a fascinating one. So is the simmering conflict between English, French, and First Nations.

You don't hear much about this stuff because we really do like to get along, I think. And also because there's no easy solution to any of it.

Anonymous said...

The national language - hindi and the state language - kannada. Each with a different script too. Real naturals pick up 5-7 languages easily.

Anonymous said...

how you can easily reach 5-8 - 3 languages in school. mother tongue happens to be different. Makes 4. street where you live has population from other state majority - 2 more languages. NOW if you do your higher education in a different state AND get a job in a third state, you get the idea. :-).

Anonymous said...

The younger you are, the easier it is to learn a new language.

I'm a Yank.. in high school we were required to take a class in a language, Spanish was heavily favored, French was an option, German was available but discouraged.

My dad made me take French. I wanted to take German, and should have taken Spanish but.. I took 3 years of French, failed one, and barely passed the other 2.

Americans really are monolingual in general, a second language is a boring class in school you sleep through, and those who learn Spanish usually do it through social interaction and not school.

I can't read French beyond "If something work something bad something, then you don't something something the something view(?) something." I remember a few basics and a few nursery rhymes tho.

I wish I'd taken German.. there's a lot more web content in German than French, and it seems very similar to Old English, pre-Norman, while French seems to connect to English through Latin roots. (Mort.. mortician.. death?). OTOH, English steals freely from French.

Not to open a can of worms, but I kinda feel like Quebec should be allowed to be its own country so the rest of Canada can finally relax and be English. That's just an ignorant outsider's view though, I know you can't split up a country like that.

The Republican thing is funny because Bush pandered heavily to hispanics around election time, but that's a tale for another day.

In closing.. If you speak 3 languages you're trilingual, if you speak 2 languages you're bilingual, if you only speak one language you're American. :)

Anonymous said...

You know, I took la francais all the way to OAC/Grade 13, and passed with flying colours, yet I struggle with my 9 year old's French homework now.

I really wish I'd kept up with it, but unless you're in the Quebec area and use it all the time, I guess it fades away, gets replaced by actor's names, song lyrics and recipes for salsa. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

PS: I love Sol. He's creepy.

Adam Thornton said...

I do hear that once you've achieved fluency in one additional language, all others come easier.

I tried to teach myself Hindi but found Devanagari to be a bit much on first go; maybe I'll try again someday. I did teach myself credible Swedish about twelve years ago, but I eventually realized that I'd never find an application for it and I've forgotten much of what I've learned.

Still, though, just in my dabbling I learned that there's a LOT to be gained by exploring a new language. It allows you to step outside your own language a bit and see it in a new way.

Adam Thornton said...

English steals freely from EVERYBODY! That's why its pronounciation is so messed up...all these loan-words from other languages.

There is something to be said for Quebec separating from Canada, but as far as I can see there are two serious problems (besides economic ones which I haven't looked into much):

1) They've never achieved a clear minority that WANTS to far as I know they haven't hit 50%. The elected politicians tend to be separatists, but whenever they hold a referendum they don't rouse the numbers that clearly say "pretty much everybody wants to separate."

2) All those maritime provinces east of Quebec don't want to separate, but if Quebec leaves then they'll be cut off. How do you manage the import/export headaches required when routing people, goods, and services through a different country?

So yeah, it's a tricky one we need to deal with every ten years or so.

Adam Thornton said...

Previous post: "minority" == "majority."

Anonymous said...

My grandfather was french canadian and I have great memories of watching Sol with him. I loved the show at 5 years old and it made me laugh. Unfortunately, I didn't learn one word of French. = )

Ann said...

lol sol.
we have to watch it in class.
theyre all vcrs. its funny, cuz we hardly ever see 'em anymore.