Watch Your Language

If I was French, I’d like to think this whole thing would be a lot easier. I might be able to tap into Francophonie funding sources, and I know I’d be able to converse better with the students. But I’m also seeing some benefits of being an Anglo. It’s definitely possible I’m able to get our films seen by more festival programmers (especially American ones) through my targeted appeals, but I also think having French as a second language actually makes me a better teacher.

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I find myself purposely speaking way slower than I would in English, pronouncing everything as clear as possible, and never just assuming that people understand me. It doesn’t annoy me to hammer home a point five different ways with different examples, because I’m never sure which one will make the most sense. And honestly, there’s been almost no chit-chat, clock-gazing or strained faces in the class. People are engaged, interested, and when I’m at my best, hanging on every word.

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That was definitely the case today when I explained the visual language of cinema. We talked about specific shot compositions – establishing shots, medium shots, close-ups, cutaways, etc. – and how using the right combination will allow you to clearly communicate your ideas. The same way you need a variety of verbs, nouns, and adjectives to tell a story, you need to use the visual equivalents to “show” one. But you must also know the rules that, when broken, confuse and disorient the audience. In film this could be 180-degree axis rule, where as in writing it could be to change tense mid-sentence. Then of course in both media there is always poetry that doesn’t follow grammatical rules, but conveys meaning in specific (and usually more direct) ways.

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If this sounds like gibberish to you, imagine the challenge of trying to communicate this in my French patois. But by the end of class, however, I could tell by the buzz of agreement that we were indeed all speaking the same language. A phone call to non-French speaking BFC co-founder Raymond – still stuck in Rwanda covering their national elections – also reminded me that if I only spoke French, this whole adventure could probably have never happened.

Christopher Redmond