I do not Need to Do Anything! Do you? Yet… I Have to!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I am kind of time challenged this week… believe it or not, we are already at the end of August! Summer Holidays are over and school will start next week… I am under the impression summer went by without having seen it! It is probably due to the non stop shitty weather we had… actually I am still waiting for summer to arrive! Well… not really… I finally gave up hope this morning: 7 degrees Celsius was the wake up call I needed to resign myself to the consequences of Global Warming…

Dave returned from PEI, rested and rusted as well! It was not a big surprise… two weeks away, in a place where French is almost non existing, what can one expect? Not much… I am used to it, therefore he will need a good refresher and I can handle it without getting too frustrated! The Holidays’ aftermath comes with the job!

Before the “warm” season is over, I decided to organize one last “pedagogical” activity : dinner and theater “en français”… The young crowd took a raincheck so, once again, only the crooners will attend… James hates when I refer to us as “crooners”, he prefers the use of “more mature”… whatever James! If it makes you feel better… but it will not make you feel younger! This time, he was the one in charge of booking the tickets (I always delegate this part to a student: I do believe it is good practice!)… Il s’en est tiré avec brio! Of course, making reservations through the net is much easier than over the phone… but still… he had to deal with an unilingual web site where all instructions were in French! Clicking on the right icon was kind of imperative… otherwise we could have ended up having dinner on Wednesday and attending the play on Thursday (which would have been quite inconvenient for everybody!)… BUT! we are all set for next Wednesday.

Okay… I have digressed enough! I now need to focus on the topic of this post… Yeah… I need to… or do I have to?… Là est toute la question et… entre les deux, mon coeur balance! When I first arrived in Ottawa, I thought people here were quite needy: “I need to do this… I need to finish that… I need to go there… I need to be out of here by… I need to talk to you… I need to call this guy…” Actually I never really paid attention when Anglophones were using the expression need to… I started to notice it when I kept hearing Francophones using avoir besoin de the same way Anglos use it: “J’ai besoin de faire ceci… j’ai besoin de finir cela… j’ai besoin d’aller là… j’ai besoin d’être sorti d’ici avant… j’ai besoin de te parler… j’ai besoin d’appeler ce type…” YIKES!!! Of course, all this was part of the “franglais” repertoire so specific to this area… I knew I could not do much in order to fix the misuse of avoir besoin… I do hate bad French, but I do not have the soul of a missionary either! On the other hand, I could never let it go in class… I thought Anglophones “needed” to know the proper usage of this expression in French.

Monday, the problem arose once again… Last week, Seema had learned new idiomatic expressions such as avoir hâte, avoir envie, avoir le temps, avoir l’air, avoir la chance, avoir peur and, of course, avoir besoin… I had given her homework asking her to come up with a series of sentences using those expressions followed with de and a verb. She did well until she reached the famous avoir besoin de… then her sentences sounded “English”… Once more, I had to explain the usage of that idiomatic expression in a French context: unless it is a matter of life or death, we do not use avoir besoin de, we rather use devoir (must/have to)… For instance a sentence like this one in English “I need to see you after work” is translated with “Je dois te voir après le travail” or “Il faut que je te voie après le travail” in French… Of course, Francophones also have needs, but not this type of needs… Saying “J’ai besoin d’air… (I need some air…)” is correct…

People who study French are proud of their new knowledge and, at the beginning of their training, they like to spread it around and share their discoveries with their colleagues (especially the Francophones)! It sounds perfectly natural to me, but apparently I am an exception! In 2000-2004, I had a full time contract with the PSAC to train many of their employees… over the four years I spent there, I gained the reputation of being the Dragon Lady or worse, the Slave Driver… among my students, those nicknames were endearing… yet not so endearing among the Francophones who believed I was a snob from Montréal… using the 24 hour system, petit déjeuner for breakfast, déjeuner for lunch and dîner for dinner! In other words I was their worse nightmare come true and I was considered as a pest… did I care? NOPE!!! My job was to teach these Anglos how to communicate efficiently in a business oriented context… Street French cannot be used in the workplace! It only conveys a bad image and I never understood why Francophones around here would be so recalcitrant to polish their business image…

One day, after class, Catherine (one of my students in a beginners’ class at the time) had attended a meeting led in French… I had just taught the proper usage of avoir besoin… During the meeting, she had heard Francophones using that very same expression numerous times in the wrong context (i.e. with the English meaning). Later that day, during a coffee break, she asked some colleagues who had been attending the same meeting why they had not used the verb devoir instead… before they could answer, she proudly went on with the explanation I had given in class earlier. She was in the middle of a sentence when she suddenly felt a dozen of dirty looks on her and her boss asking PAAAAARDON????” She then started stammering and said she probably was wrong… having confused the rules… and she ended up apologizing… For what for God’s sake? For having tried to educate them on the proper use of avoir besoin in French? Catherine is probably the most diplomatic person I ever met and I doubt she did it with arrogance… she indeed was only proud to share her new knowledge with French-speaking colleagues. The next day, she told us about the tribulations of the day before… that day, all the employees enrolled in French made a pact: anything that would be said in class would stay in class forever… and for four years, they hold on to their promise!

I saw this happen more than once in different places afterwards… and it saddens me… These people are only enthusiastic about their French classes, their new knowledge and their learning progress… It does not take long before they realize they should keep their mouth shut outside the classroom… It seems they do not get any encouragement from the native French-speakers… If I were asked why, I would be tempted to say it is only because they are envious of them… but I could be wrong… it might be because, for years, Francophones were the only ones with bilingual positions and perhaps they feel threatened by this new hord of bilingual Anglos…

“Pour certains, les contrariétés sont un prétexte au découragement. Pour d’autres, c’est une incitation à se surpasser.”

François Garagnon

Advertisements

4 Comments

  1. greeneyes said,

    August 21, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Great post (like always)!

    I have the same problem living in Brussels where everyone speaks French. However, over the years I’ve always been taught by native French professors (from France) and when I moved here I was confident that I will be able to improve my French from France. 🙂

    Unfortunately it was just the opposite. I barely understood what they were talking about. I had and I still have problems because the French Belgian speakers do not articulate properly, talk very quickly and street language …. I hardly understand (I do not want to generalize).

    Every time I tried a new French course here in Brussels I asked from the beginning if I will be taught by a Belgian French speaker or a French –French speaker. 🙂 In some cases they felt insulted. Probably they do not realize it (which might be true and fair) but for me as non-native French there is a difference.

    I totally agree (you have also mentioned in another post) that one should teach the correct, clean French but then again- I tried to practice it every time I had the occasion,including on the street, and it’s overwhelming .

  2. foreignlanguageteacher said,

    August 21, 2008 at 8:02 pm

    I always receive an education when I pop in to “la Dame dragon” blog! Outstanding explanation of “avoir besoin de” vs. “devoir”–you make it simple and clear. I guess there are misuses of language by natives many places, and it’s threatening to be corrected by a non-native.

  3. August 21, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Lisa…

    I know what you mean when you say practicing French in “real” situations can be overwhelming. The problem is that most native French-speakers use colloquial French in their daily lives and it doesn’t make it easy for the non-natives…

    My students always argue that they do understand me when I speak, but the minute they step out of the classroom, they are under the impression none of their francophone colleagues actually speaks French. And, in this area particularly, the problem is even bigger… Believe it or not, it took me 3 months to clearly understand what the natives were saying! I slowly got used to their way of speaking and I tend to reassure my students : one day, they will also understand… but, at least, with a proper background they will express themselves eloquently and will be able to be understood anywhere in the French world.

    Thanks for having stopped by, it’s always a pleasure to read your comments and reply to them! 8)

  4. August 21, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Diane…

    I’m glad my short explanation on “avoir besoin de” vs “devoir” brought some light on the subtleties of my mother tongue! 😉

    Yeah… it is always a risky business to be corrected by a native French-speaker because, most of the time, they are wrong! I know my students never ask Francophones to help them with their homework or explain the nuances of the language… I think they developed some trust issues (LOL!)!

    Thanks for popping in! I always enjoy your feedback on my posts!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: