Here at Kwiziq, we're a mixed team of language enthusiasts, with different approaches to how and where we most enjoy using our language skills. Dotted around the globe working from home offices, we don't often get a chance to sit down and have a chat. So I thought it would be a good idea to get to know some of my colleagues better and introduce them to you through a series of interviews.
Today I'm meeting with Aurélie Drouard, our beloved French Expert!
Hello Aurélie, can you describe your role here at Kwiziq?
Bonjour Rowen! Hum … "Everything the light touches is [my] kingdom." (Lion King's voice)... Basically, the great majority of French content on the site is me: lessons, questions, reader articles, fill-in-the-blanks, challenges… You name it! I've been with Kwiziq almost from the very start of the adventure (8+ years now!), and seen it grow over the years. I'm not the Mother of Dragons, but certainly the Mother of Kwizzes!
Which languages do you speak?
French, I hope! I speak English fluently. And then, because I'm a perfectionist, I wouldn't say I "speak" any other languages, but I studied Italian and German at school. German up to A-level and Italian up to A-level but a bit afterwards as well. German was my first foreign language. I also studied Latin at school, which became confusing when I started to learn Italian. Oh and a bit of Spanish! I have to mention Spanish, because when we introduced it at Kwiziq, I took a course to get up to level A1!
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?
Currently, I want to move to Scotland. I know, it doesn't sound exotic, but after 13 years in London, I can't handle the sun anymore. Nor the heat! I wear sunglasses the minute there's no cloud! The way I see it, Scotland would just be perfect. I've been there only twice, but I love the culture, I love the way people are, they're very straightforward and they're also very warm and friendly. I kind of want that in my life. I don't see myself living in France anymore. I've noticed over the years, in societal discussions, that I've become more Anglo-Saxon in the way I think now, but you never know!
What are three things about you that most people don't know ?
1) I think I'm quite a direct person in general, so I don't think I hide things… but maybe the fact that I'm a big horror movie fan. Maybe they wouldn't know that.
I remember you talking about your interest in comic books and maybe not everyone knows about that…
2) Oh, yeah. I'm a geek! I'm definitely a geek. I got into comic books because of my husband, who's a certified geek.
I've always been a big reader but I'd never really been into comic books. I thought it was all superheroes and stuff and that didn't really appeal to me… but he actually showed me the literary side of comic books and introduced me to Neil Gaiman and Sandman, to Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, those are the big names. And those are really adult comic books, with really dark themes, usually very "graphic", like really grown-up stories. I've become an enthusiastic advocate of comics as literature. Among my favourite series, you've got Sandman, The Boys, The Walking Dead, Transmetropolitan... I've read all of them, and obviously you can see the correlation with horror.
You also said that you were a big reader in general, but do you stick to one genre or do you read a range of things?
3) I love fiction, and I really like any genre. Among my favourite books of all time are the ones I grew up with, which are a lot of Anglo-Saxon female writers. Little Women, Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice: here's my trilogy of formative years literature! Then I would quote American Psycho as well, as one of my biggest literary shocks. I was literally shaking after reading it, it was so powerful! As for French authors, I rediscovered Zola a few years back. I used to really struggle when we were studying him at school, but now I adore his character studies. And recently, I really loved Vernon Subutex by Virginie Despentes, and Au revoir là-haut by Pierre Lemaitre.
What's your favourite word in any of the languages you speak?
I've got one in French and one in English. My favourite French word is saphir (which is sapphire, of course in English!). I can't quite explain why, well I can - there was a cartoon on TV, a Japanese manga called Princesse Saphir, which was the story of a princess having to pretend to be a boy to be able to be her father's heir. I've always loved this type of stories! And since then, I've loved the word saphir. It's just the sound of it. And it became the love of the stone itself just because of the name. (Strangely, I don't like the word sapphire in English, just doesn't feel the same.)
For the English, my favourite word is obviously. Obviously! Why? Because it's such a perfect word to express exactly what you mean to express! There's no perfect equivalent in French. Any equivalent you would use would pale in comparison. Obviously contains the sarcasm, it contains the annoyance, it contains the sense of "duuuh!". Once you know it, you can't go back! Now when I speak French, I end up using this English word in the middle of my sentences, just because no French word can come close!
What language-related achievement are you most proud of?
My accent in English. Basically, when I meet someone foreign, someone non-Anglophone, they usually think that I'm English! And even Anglophones, who of course know that I'm not English - I'm not that good - usually struggle to place where I'm from. Which for a French person, is a huge achievement! This is really something that I'm super proud of. But there's one thing that gives me away every time, and that's how I say France. I can't get away from the nasal '-an-' sound. Because I'm going to go for the French '-an-'. It's very subtle with the British '-an-'. It's hard for French people because we've got the complete nasal sound, it's hard to find the half-measure.
What do you most enjoy using your foreign language knowledge for?
Reading books and watching films in their original language. Growing up in France, when you watch TV, you've got a lot of English-speaking productions but they're systematically dubbed into French. As a teenager, I was a big fan of the series Friends and I would watch it dubbed on TV. The first time I managed to get the subtitled, original version with the real voices, that was it. I thought: I can't take the dubbing anymore. Every time I go to France now, it grates so much when the TV is on. Plus something that most people wouldn't know, but dubbing actors, they're the same group going around: so for example, in France, Xander from Buffy has the same voice as Bruce Willis, has the same voice as Chandler and Jim Carrey! And you definitely notice! I also always found that dubbed voices sounded more caricatural. The voices sound so extreme, you almost feel like you're watching a pantomime version of the show. So, simply that: being able to watch a film in its original language.
There are different layers of watching a foreign language film with subtitles though. You could watch a foreign language film with subtitles in your native language, but when you're starting to get to know the language quite well, watch it with subtitles in that language…
Yes those are the steps, you start with French subtitles [as a French native] and then you switch the subtitles to English. I remember when I was in high school, I'd bought a box set of CSI Las Vegas (I loved Les Experts [French title]!) and I used to put on the English subtitles. I learnt so much vocabulary from it, like fingerprints, forensic … very useful everyday vocabulary! I literally have flashes of seeing the screen and seeing the writing and I do very vividly remember when and how I learnt certain words. For example, I learnt bullet and trigger from Bohemian Rhapsody lyrics! And I learnt other random things like, newt from Monty Python and the fact that you also use the French pot pourri in English from Friends…
Which feature about Kwiziq do you like most?
I don't know if it's a feature as such, but the thing that I love the most is the fact that you can start at the level you're at, rather than have to start over from the beginning. The level placement test and the fact that for each question, you have a direct link to a lesson, so that when you don't know why, you have an explanation.
And obviously, the dictations and bilingual readers!
What's your superpower or party trick?
My party trick is to put on a French accent hahaha. And people suddenly go, "oh, you're French?" And I say, [dons stereotypical French accent] "yes, but I don't normally speak like that, so you don't know…". I'm also excellent at rating other people's French accent…
Or alternatively, my party trick is this: describing how English is a pragmatic, down-to-earth language [compared to French]. For example, the fact that most cases I've encountered where I can't say what I want to say in French, have to do with senses. Like when you want to say, "it tastes nice" or "it sounds fun", you realise, oh French is pretty rubbish for that! Because English is way more pragmatic.
I'd never thought of it that way…
When studying translation at the Sorbonne university, I started to consider that the main difference between Anglo-Saxon and Romance languages is also a philosophical question because you think in a language, so that the way you think is going to depend on the words that you have. And English is a language anchored in reality, in experience. It describes things as they are. And it's very good to describe senses, things you see, things you touch. That's why you've got so many words like tiptoeing, popping, all those words that are so vividly linked to what they actually describe, whereas French and Romance languages are way more abstract. They're way more "in the head". It's like Descartes, je pense, donc je suis, and when you look at philosophers, it actually matches, because English philosophers tend to be more pragmatic, and value the notion of "I believe what I see", which you can contrast with "I think, therefore I am" [with French] and all the very abstract notions. Our languages reflect that. I think if you're talking about ideas, French is probably better to talk in, whereas if you're actually talking about something concrete, something down-to-earth, English is the best by far. I find the English language is more "efficient", as in "language is my tool to describe what I need, what I want", therefore it needs to be straight to the point, it needs to do the job. If you think of it like this, in French, for tiptoe you'd need to say, marcher sur la pointe des pieds. You need six times the number of words!
What language do you wish you spoke?
I guess if I could learn it instantly, like a magic trick, I'd like to speak Chinese or Russian, you know, like one of those languages that are so different from Indo-European ones. Recently, I was watching [the TV show] The Americans and they were speaking in Russian, there was a specific scene where an American citizen was learning Russian because she had to live there from now on and there was a scene in the park where the [main character's] handler is basically correcting her Russian and on the subtitles it's something very simple and she says, "the clouds is beautiful" and he says: "no, the clouds are beautiful". And then you hear the Russian and it sounds completely different! Like in two sentences, the change in the sentences didn't fall where I expected it to fall. And I was just mesmerised by that tiny little piece, thinking, "it's so alien!" Because even as a grammar nerd, there's no point of reference. So definitely one of those, just to have the comprehension of the grammar.
Merci Aurélie! More interviews with the rest of the team coming soon!