My husband asked me the other day, “Why is it that French from France sounds different than French from Quebec?” He continued: “It’s like the verbs are in different places or that the pronunciations are stronger at points in the conversations and there are different words entirely to describe the same object.”
It is true, there is a difference, but I think it is the same in every language. Distinct locations will shift how a particular idiom is used. Spanish, for instance, from my experience traveling in Spain and some Central American countries, is so diverse, that most words commonly use in some places mean entirely different things in the others, even in some countries who share borders. But, what my husband was also referring to, was the slang phrases he kept hearing and not really understanding from French common expressions.
We all have regional phrases and localism that we use so often that their pronunciations outlive the importance of their grammatical placements and other writing and speech laws. They become a tool for local chatting and playful communication, and when there is a foreign listener, who is completely unaware of our lack of proper idiomatic manners, it may sound funny.
After studying so much Spanish in school and realizing that whatever I learned in Spain didn’t necessary help when I was in Guatemala, or some parts of Mexico, and not to mention Cuba (those Cubans are the hardest to understand with their highly thick slang and rapid speech) I felt that I had been betrayed by all those language teachers I had in school.
However, later on, through much ordeal, and braking glasses of water from my indignation I began to understand that this shifting language paradigm was really typical. Now, years later, it allows me to see where my husband was coming from with his concern about not following my friends in conversations. There were people from different areas of France and of Quebec, so, obviously, he was very often lost in meaning during our verbal exchanges. But, for the most part I was there to save him from the pits of the language barriers dungeons.
We always laugh at these moments, because we mirror each other so much at these particular events, that whomever is caught in this language confusion, always looks at the other like, “Man, do they speak fast!”. I go through the same thing when I go to Cuba with him, “they don’t breathe when they talk”, I tell him, and the slang they use is a moving train crushing your brain’s cortical and temporal lobes. Semantics, social content, associations, articulation mean nothing to our brain functioning in the midst of such emotional driven Cuban dialogues, I am pretty sure the area of the brain involve in speech processing lights up when we are confronted with the crude reality that learning a language is a never ending process, especially now more than ever, when languages are being so mixed up in our age of flash traveling information.
As we learn to evolve as a unit with our cross cultural partner, the possibility for a greater open communicative relationship is in higher need of understanding language. It is very important not to undermine how much effort we have to put in making sure that our companion feels they have a space, where everyone feels responsible for the others new language development.
Be patient with your cross cultural lover, be supportive and take turns listening to each other. Take all the time possible to explain slang expressions or try to avoid them altogether, it could be confusing otherwise. Some of these phrases are usually taken from another language and so they don’t follow the same exact laws of the new language we are trying to learn, making it a nuisance for both you and your partner. But if you must use them, write them down, even if there are a thousand of them, write it down and later on pin point the moments when they were used and why. This shows appreciation and the willingness for playing a supportive role in the integration of your international partner into your culture. Language after all is an important part in the foundations of who we are. Exercise being a passive slow talker and invite your partner to do the same. Communication is paramount for the future that lies ahead. The better clarity you achieve the more fields of dreams you will harvest. The vastness of a cross cultural relationship endures and thrives in communication and clarity, enjoy its fruitful moments.