Monday, August 20, 2007

J'aime le bifteck

Or: my roommate Hershel's approach to the entirety of the French language. Mine is more along the lines of "j'aime les croissants" but I think either is equally valid.

Now here's an amusing anecdote, drawn from somewhere in the Stygian marsh. Before the trek to the City of Dis (alternately known as the Swann Modern Languages building), the petitioner is confronted with the Placement Test. Now, generally, a placement test when taking a language makes sense. If you had a really slack high school teacher who only taught you how to count to fifty in your first semester of French as opposed to the more standard seventy, then you might not want to jump into the strenuous demands of "count to one thousand" that French II springs at you. If, on the other hand, your most recent French experience consisted of writing a nuanced thesis on the competing influences of Abusrdist versus Existentialist thought in Albert Camus' L'Etranger then French II might not be the best choice either.

That said, the "multiple choice" format for said placement test may well be the worst idea I've heard in a long time. First off, a multiple choice test examines only one skill (reading) when in fact there are four that go toward determining fluency. This test format utterly ignores the ability to write French, or to speak or comprehend spoken French. Reading is the easiest one of these skills to develop because you get things like context clues. Take a test question I ran into. The question presented me with several paragraphs of French, which to me seemed like "word word word-with-funny-accents, 'he is going to,' word word more funny accents." The question asked me "What did the boys do with the watch?" and it's funny, because except for that question I wouldn't have known a watch was involved at all. So I started to do a little creative guessing: I recognized the words for "earth" and "gardener," and one of the answer choices involved "soil." The thing is, I'm pretty darn sure I got that question right. And so it went.

A question asks "what verb means the same thing as 'to make the paintings'?" I didn't think "peinter" sounded good, so I went with "peindre." A quick Babelfish query after the test was over confirmed that one. I've never had a formal education of what food names were, but damned if I didn't go to Cora every week and learn "pomme" and "artichaut" and "chou" for "apple," "artichoke," and "cabbage" by some sort of advertisement-osmosis.

Apparently that osmosis worked better than I'd ever imagined. Or my good Qi chose a strange time to manifest itself. Possibly both; I'll never know. What I do know is that based on no evidence of ability to write, speak, comprehend, or interpret French, I'm apparently good enough to skip French II.

Currently listening: "Hold On," KT Tunstall (via our friends at YouTube)


Andrew said...

It kind of all reminds me of an I Love Lucy episode.

And I must say, I expected the oops i crapped my pants reference because it was the first thing that popped into my head when i felt that i had actually crapped my pants.


Samantha said...

It's Qi