I thought of my Grade 12 English teacher the other day (she had also been my Grade 10 French teacher). As a result of a six-week French immersion course the summer after Grade 11, I had discovered – and was reading and enjoying – Astérix, a French comic book series I had never heard of in rural Nova Scotia. When I told her this, she replied, “Oh, it’s much funnier in German.”
I remembered her the other night while reading Haruki Murakami in French. Les amants du Spoutnik was one of those Kinokuniya book sale finds that I bought in a fit of didacticism and promptly forgot about. Last week, after moving the futon to a marginally cooler room, I found myself at eye level with it again. I tried reading the English version, Sputnik Sweetheart, a long time ago with no success. And of course, there are not enough hours left in my life to try reading スプートニクの恋人 in the original Japanese. I took the book off the shelf and tried a few paragraphs. For the first few pages, I was consciously translating it into English. Then, after a chapter a night, I found I only did that when I stumbled over a word I didn’t know (the slang of Paris in 2003 is not that of Rimouski, Quebec, c.1988, the last time I ever had to use it). A week later, slowly but not laboriously, I’m really into it.
I also find myself listening to the news online at Radio-Canada, lately, and reading LeMonde and Libération. My French writing is ungrammatical gibberish, but I can carry on a reasonable conversation on the two or three occasions per decade when I’m called upon to do so in Osaka. Who’d have thought that my French would improve so much from living in Japan?
Of course, it’s just another excuse to get out of studying for the Japanese Proficiency Test again. How passive-aggressive can one man be?
(NB: By strange coincidence, guess who just turned 50?)