The difference between talking and writing

Well, one’s talking, and one’s writing, right?

I feel like I have two internal voices: the one that gives words to my mouth, and the other that gives them to my pen (or keyboard). My speech voice has gotten all tangled up in recent years as I immerse myself more and more in the French language. Nowadays, I spend roughly 35 hours a week speaking almost exclusively French, and when I switch over to English I find remnants of that in my speech. The word “bien” is especially sticky, and it has no English equivalent in certain contexts. I also sometimes get mental blocks where I can’t think up the English word for something. “I’m going to have some toast with… wait… dammit… what’s the word for ‘confiture’?”

This used to upset me at first. I’ve been speaking English all my life, why should that get pushed out for French? I don’t actually think either of them has had to make room for the other, and I have enough bilingual people around me that if I automatically say something in French or English because it’s more efficient that way, they understand. Often it’s subject-related: I speak French at work, so if I talk about work it’s easier for me to do so in French. Sometimes it’s random, or not even proper French. The two languages have slightly different grammar structures, and I’ve been known to say something entirely in English, but using the French structure instead.

When I am writing, this is almost never an issue. The writing voice remains clear on what is English and rejects the rest. I never falter or spend time searching for an English word that I’ve temporarily forgotten because the French equivalent comes to mind. Perhaps it’s so easy to separate the languages because I don’t do any creative writing in French. I’ve done some for a university course, but they were very short pieces riddled with grammar issues. I simply haven’t done enough reading to have the vocabulary necessary to try any serious creative writing en français, never mind the fact that there are literary verb tenses I won’t touch. The ones I know already are complicated enough.

I will say this much for French, though: pronunciation is pretty standard, and that’s a blessing to anyone learning it as a second language. I have so much sympathy for anyone learning English as an adult and struggling with all its irregularities (see “The Chaos” by Gerard Nolst Trenité).