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I have found knowing Spanish and my limited knowledge of Latin to be incredibly helpful in learning French. I was afraid that I’d mix Spanish in French frequently and struggle taking both beginner French and intermediate Spanish at the same time. Other than the occasional odd mix little mix up, it’s been fine and even somewhat useful. For example, when I forget the word for “slow” in Spanish, I remember that it’s “lent” in French which immediately reminds me that it’s “lento” in Spanish. Spanish and French are NOT that similar, even though people seem to like to say they are, but vocabulary shares many similar roots.

(As to what words I mix up, most recently I wrote inglés on French homework, docteur on a Spanish test, and frequently catch myself correcting et to y and vice versa. I also will occasionally say words with a Spanish accent in French class and often pronounce Spanish words ending in -ión and -ment with a French accent.)

I had begun reading some books in French to bolster my learning. I began with Le Petit Nicolas stories and “Stories for Beginning Learner” collections on Amazon but I quickly became bored with these. (I can get through them quickly but I haven’t finished one because I don’t feel very engaged with the stories.) I also want to learn French the way that French people actually speak and I was concerned that stories for children or written for French learners would be a little too “proper.”

After some time spent digging around on Amazon, I created a list of several modern, recent books by French authors that were available in the original French on Amazon. (I also found some by Spanish authors, from Spain, rather than South American authors but more on that later.) To begin with, I chose Heureux les Heureux by Yasmina Reza. Given that I’m only barely done with French 102 and maybe around level A1 or in the beginning of A2, I’m amazed at how much I can understand. I’m trying to allow myself to read a page quickly, understanding the gist of what’s happening and being said without understanding every single word. That’s hard to do because I feel like I miss a lot of great phrases and opportunities to solidify grammar. So I’m reading a page or two quickly and then going back to dig at individual words and sentences.

I’m so glad that I chose this book, it’s far more interesting and easier to stick with than Le Petit Nicolas. On book websites, the title translates to “Happy are the Happy” but from my knowledge it’s actually just “Happy the Happy”. (Sidenote: I was speaking to someone in Madrid on Skype the other day, for Spanish practice, who has an 8 year daughter. My son is also 8 and they were very curious about each other. She said that she was reading the “Diary of Greg” books and I asked to see the cover because I was pretty sure I knew what series that was. (Not that it’s that hard to figure out.) It turns out that she is reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, which is muy guay because my son loved those books. But that just goes to show, translations of titles (and other things) are not exact. So I’m going with “Happy the Happy”. I’m only about sixteen pages in but it reminds me of some of Milan Kundera’s books like Laughable Loves and The Unbearable Lightness of Being which I read several times decades ago. I love books about the human condition, so to speak – relationships, people’s emotions and faults. Heureux les Heureux opened up with a couple arguing in the grocery store, seemingly about cheese, and I’m delighted reading the words of someone angry and upset about Moblier cheese and who the hell eats that shit Moblier? (The argument isn’t REALLY about cheese, of course.)

I’ve been worried that, in my quest to do translation, I will be pigeon-holed into technology since that’s what my background is in. But I’ve realized that, in addition to language regarding language itself, travel, and culture (and coffee bien sûr), I can easily specialize in what I can only think to call “the human condition”. That is to say, I very easily understand the meaning of and can explain / translate words such as those in Heureux les Heureux. I have always gravitated towards the words of emotions when learning new tongues. I can feel them and explain them quite easily.

So. As I read through this book – in addition to the Spanish one I’m about to start (which will also get it’s own posts) – I’ll do some little bits of translation and talking about languages and words here. It’ll be good experience but also a fun way to dive deeper into these languages. You can only do so much in a classroom!

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