“Would you pass me the…. The… the green thing; long, green, crunchy that we eat with salad?”
“Would you mind closing the…um… things that cover the windows?”
That’s not so bad, but when you’re standing with a newish friend who’s telling you her phone number, which you’ve managed to somehow lose, and you’re staring at ‘Contacts’ on your phone with absolutely no clue at that moment what her name is and what you need to type, it’s a little bit embarrassing.
One of the things that happened to me after minor head injury in July 2017 was an issue with my vocabulary. Nouns and proper nouns just seemed to fly out of my head without so much as a by-your-leave.
Right letter, wrong word
Sometimes a word would come out beginning with the right letter – but utterly wrong. Like I might say “has anyone seen the spatula?”, when I was looking for the scissors.
Often I’d stutter, sure the word would be about to appear, but it wouldn’t. “Oh pants I’ve lost my g….g….gr?…gn?…ugh…the things beginning with ‘g’ I need to see properly.”
The children sometimes found it hilarious, when I asked them would they like play-dough for breakfast (pancakes), or to go to the sweat lodge? No – the place with water that you like (swimming pool). “Do want pegs with dinner?”, thinking about peas.
A psychologist friend of mine listened to some of the symptoms I’d experienced and, clever bod that he is, explained to me that he knew pretty much exactly what had happened to my brain when I banged my head, based on those symptoms. Basically some of my frontal lobe got a bit bruised, and clearly the bit that deals with language suffered. Among other things.
As I recovered over the following months my vocabulary got better, but it became a really good indicator that I needed a nap. When I started to struggle, it was bed for me. And by the end of the week who knew what nonsense I might spout!
It’s a language learning thing
The thing is, I’m still getting it, sixteen months on! The Mr suggests it may, at this stage, be more to do with the fact that I’m trying to acquire another language than the head bump. Sometimes I even know the French word and can’t think of the English one! Which, when I analyse it, is usually when it’s some kind of France-specific, or mountain-oriented vocabulary that I never used a whole lot when I was living in English-speaking countries…
That thing, for example, when a mountain slopes directly down on both sides and you’re walking along a really narrow part on the top. A crête… let me ask the Mr what it is in English again. Oh. It’s a ridge. How disappointing. A crête sounds so much more dramatic. Perhaps I forgot that one cos it’s a bit dull!
Yesterday I wanted to say, in English, that something was not organic. I definitely think my inability to find that word was a language-learning thing. ‘These are not bio…. b…. eco….biol…ecol…. What is the word we use?’ The Mr just looks at me. ‘Well, anyway, they aren’t.’ And a few minutes later I murmur ‘Organic! Ugh.’ I should have just chucked my French accent at it and gone with ‘bio’, which is what they say for ‘organic’ in France. Why am I so stuck on English?!
A big fat finger
Perhaps all this is just a big fat finger pointing me in the direction of speaking more French at home. In fact, between finishing the last paragraph and starting this one The Mr asked me what our French phone number is… AND I TOLD HIM IT IN FRENCH BECAUSE FOR SOME CRAZY REASON THAT WAS EASIER!
I couldn’t tell you my UK number in French as easily, but I’ve got the French one down pat-myself-on-the-back brilliantly.
ASIDE: we got a French phone number when we were moving house, since the French do like you to have a French number. One would think that in our 2018 global world, and with lots of us European countries being knit together by the EU (ahem), one’s phone number would be good for anywhere… It costs me no more to use my UK number in France, anyway. But ho hum, we go with the flow and got the cheapest phone available and a basic tarif. And when I say the cheapest phone – it is unusable. Remember when you had to press the same key repeatedly to get the letter you wanted? I was quite good at it back in the 1990’s, but contrary to my muscle-memory hopes, those retro texting skills did not return. If I do manage to focus for about ten minutes to type something vaguely comprehensible (without accents, I might add) I invariably press a wrong button right at the end and cancel the whole thing. ARGH! I have a new strategy which is to type the text on my iPhone-with-the-UK number, send it to the French phone, and then forward it on to the person it needs to go to (cos the French want to receive my texts from a French number they are happy to reply to). Phew!
Better off – got a p….a pan… a pick… a p… oh what the heck. J’ai un desert dans le four and I don’t want it to burn.
You have been reading Jumping Off Books. I tend to write about living in France at the moment. I’m a keen trail runner, flailing student of French, mother, business woman, do some cooking (sometimes enjoy it) and once in a while pen a haiku – used to do that more but haven’t been making the time.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Feel free to comment. Really, I’d love you to. No one seems to and it would be great to hear from you!