Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The art of being bilingual

You guys must be wondering why I write my blog in English when my native language is French. Why not? English is the most widely spoken and written language in this world (along with Chinese I guess, even if Chinese language is mostly spoken in China – but there are almost 2 billion of them!) so I guess that speaking English anywhere (in China included), and speaking it fluently, is a big advantage.

What could be more surprising is that I am writing long texts in English, that’s much more complicated and risky I guess, as you’re more exposed to making mistakes that can be noticed immediately and your credibility can be ruined right away. I’m too conscious of that, that’s why it took me one year to write “Charlie’s Trips”. Actually it first took me one year to write the script, then one more year to turn it into a book. There were so many mistakes I always had to spot then correct… and I’m such a perfectionist, so demanding! I also had to add more stuff to make the story richer. This is what can happen to you when you write a book in a language that is not yours, and then self-publishing it – which means you have to do all the editing and corrections and design, all by yourself. But on the whole it was rather fun writing that book but I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it again in the future, even if the novel is a commercial success. Writing a book in your native language is already so complicated… so doing it in a different language than yours (even when it’s English) is too demanding, takes too much time. Writing film scripts in English is easier for me even if it’s basically hard enough. I have half a dozen scripts written in English.

I learned English a rather unique way: watching movies. Of course I learned the main stuff at school – and I was one of the best pupils, as far as I remember – but I used cinema to improve my knowledge. In 1984, when I was only 13 years old, my father subscribed to a new French TV channel. It was Canal+. Which is an internationally respected channel and institution now. The channel was broadcasting only sports and movies at that time, it was dedicated to that only. No commercial or information breaks, no shows, nothing else but films and sports. From this point I really discovered cinema, especially in its original version, with the real voices from the English-speaking actors. Before that, I was young and naive enough to think that those English and American actors were really speaking French! I didn’t know yet about the art of dubbing. That was a big shock, my fascination was huge and I started recording films in their original English-speaking versions (with subtitles) before watching them over and over again. That’s how I could get used to the rhythm and 27 years later, even if my speaking and understanding are not perfect even today it still made me able to manage with grammar and vocabulary and to write long texts in English with rather good confidence.

Actually I find it easier to speak English instead of French, the language is even simpler to learn and speak. At least in English you don’t have to deal with the masculine-feminine genders on each noun – when you do in most other languages, such as French, Spanish, and I guess Chinese too. That makes the language attractive right away. I guess that’s why English is the most common language around the world. That’s also why I intend to get married in the future to somebody who speaks English and no French J Also, writing in English gives you another great advantage: because it’s the most widely spoken language across the world, the market is much bigger, you can reach many more people and you can sell your work in many more ways. I always feel limited when I’m in France because it’s a country that is very closed, and everything that’s made there doesn’t get past the borders. And when I produce something in English when I’m in France, it’s impossible to pass it around or to contact people without spending much money in phone calls.

So I could learn English without going to any special school. I’m not saying that schools are ineffective, only that there are other ways than schools to learn a new language, especially such an easy language like that one. But like when you’re at school you still have to listen and speak continuously. Like Brad Pitt says in Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds: ‘PRACTISE’.

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