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Status update: Joyeux noël

Written By: daveski on December 25, 2009 1 Comment

It’s been quite a while since I’ve ventured to write about learning French, or even taken a few baby-steps in the direction of actually writing in French – this mostly because I haven’t been studying and practicing as I should for my research project between learners of French in Berkeley and French tutors in Lyon, France.

But the holiday season and the rapidly approaching New Year bring thoughts of resolution. I hope that here on FIT we’ll have more multilingual writing at all stages of the language learning spectrum, from authors returning and new. And I’ll try to live up to my end of the bargain, picking up my books again, speaking and reading, blogging and tweeting, here and there, en français and of course in English.

As a regular Facebook user (somewhere around Level 2, I’d guess) I took the first step a few weeks ago, a remarkably easy one, but one that’s eluded me for a while. And, by the looks of it from my Condensé des actualités – that is, my News Feed – it seems it may have eluded you, too. You see, on Facebook, your friends know when you’ve changed your interface language to this-or-that language; I remember having seen notifications along these lines for several of my 200+ amis (= “friends”, or does it?). But, come to think of it, most of these have been to switch back and forth to “Pirate English”…

Whatever your other language(s) is/are – or whatever you’d like them to be – why not change your Facebook language, and see what you find? Here are a few of my own recent discoveries:

  • As a beginning learner of French who takes every wrong turn to the many false cognates between the two languages, I never really got turned on to the different-looking verb “afficher” before. But now it’s clearly, overwhelmingly become “view” in my mind. “Afficher les messages” (View the messages), “Afficher les commentaires” (View the comments) are expressions you see all over your page, and in your inbox when notifications come flying in to your email Boîte de réception (inbox), telling you what’s up and to read more, cliquez sur le lien suivant:
  • Does “Actualité” really mean “news”? What does “news” mean anyway?
  • And mur, the wall. Does it feel the same to write on someone’s mur in France as it does their wall in the U.S.? You may have seen this video, but it’s worth another watch to imagine how this conversation might sound in French.
  • I’d always read the verbs for different actions that can be taken as a Facebook user (“Become a fan”, “Comment”, “Write on their wall”, etc.) as imperative and not infinitive forms. But reading them in French (“Devenir fan”, “Commenter”, “Écrire sur son mur”) has made me rethink what I meant by “infinitive” and “imperative”. Are these invitations? Commands? Statements of possibility? Why is the ‘invitation’ to “like this” translated not as aimer ça, but in the first person present J’aime?

Well, these are just a few observations. I could probably go on with this list for a while, and maybe, if you speak French or have used Facebook in another language, you could add to it too. In the meantime, I’ll just update my status, Joyeux noel – Merry Christmas – and try to avoid the constant messages from our good amis at Google:

This page is in French. Translate it using Google Toolbar?



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One Response to “Status update: Joyeux noël”

  1. Usree Bhattacharya on: 28 December 2009 at 5:12 am

    Very nice post, dave, real food for thought! I remember once when I logged in to Facebook briefly at the airport in Taipei during a layover, and suddenly my whole FB profile was in Chinese (so far as I could tell)! I had not requested to change languages, obviously, but it was so unsettling! Even after I arrived in India and logged into Facebook, the profile appeared in Chinese. Fortunately, after playing around with a format that was still familiar, I managed to somehow switch it to Hindi and then back to English. Phew!

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