December 9, 2023


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These evening students are interested in rare languages

These evening students are interested in rare languages

Testimonials – Hindi, Urdu, Swahili, Tahitian… Self-taught or at Inalco, many people want to discover and learn forgotten or lost languages.

At the end of the thirteenth arrondissement of Paris, next to the François Mitterrand library, there is a second cube of impressive mass: the National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations (INALCO). Seven floors to climb. Boom did not disappoint. This is because you dominate seven continents, and the school’s students from 120 countries mix words with unknown sounds. “In the same room, there might be a Tagalog pronunciation lesson in the morning and Tamil grammar in the afternoon. Then Tibetan, Bengali, Tahitian…,” Laurent, who took Hindi lessons there one evening a week, marveled at discovering the language during his internship in India.

On the fifth floor, this Tuesday evening, a Persian evening course takes place from 7pm to 9:30pm. “I don’t have time to complete the exercises», Sara apologizes to a conciliatory teacher. She knows her students come from all walks of life and are there mainly out of curiosity. “I sin most in writing», explains Sarah, who is of Iranian origin. His accent, when he is asked to introduce himself to his neighbors, is not really impeccable. Like Hadrian, his family hails from Kermansa (in Iran). “I listened to a lot of Persian as a child and was immersed in it.” But it is not enough to write or speak it fluently. For this purpose, “Talk well with your Iranian grandmother», Juliet comes to sit for an extra two and a half hours every Tuesday evening after her busy day. “I amI am a false beginner», she slips. Diction, everyday words, are long ingrained.

“More than a school, a mindset”

Motivations can vary: attraction to the culture, anticipation of an upcoming internship or trip…”There are always two groups in the classes, those interested in the culture, and then the children of immigrants from those countries.», argues Laurent. “It’s not always easy for teachers“. We meet Isabel in the corridors, coming out of Vietnamese class: “It’s the language of my parents, but I only speak with them. It’s not muted, I need to communicate, it’s not necessary to write it down. But I want to dig. Abdu’s goal is the same. He added courses at Inalco in addition to his philosophy degree elsewhere to learn to write his mother tongue, Fulani (spoken in 18 African countries).

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In the beginning, we are at the same time as them. But when they learn to read and write, they take it away», laughs Selin, whose Khmer class is mainly made up of native speakers. “More than a school, it’s a mindset», recalls the geographer, who eagerly began learning Khmer a few years ago for research work in Cambodia, and who, once back in France, turned to Inalco “And learn more systematically, more systematically“. Inalco, nicknamed “O’ Languages” since 1914, teaches more than 100 languages ​​and civilizations. Is the school the perfect fruit of double degrees abroad, binational divisions and Erasmus? Created in 1795 at the most critical moment of the Terror, it is a long distance for them. Going forward. Trade and diplomacy, strategic elements in the spread of revolutionary ideas, suffered from a shortage of translators at this time. An institution was needed to train the French in modern languages.

“No one forces me to learn, no one learns”

Constance, Master’s Degree in International Solidarity Management

We French don’t always realize how lucky we are to have great companies like Inalco», explains Mathematical Research Manager Etienne Bernard at Ponts et Chaussées. He is in his second year of Estonian at Inalco. “Before I learned languages ​​on my own, but persistence was hard. Inalco gives me a framework to learn in a serious and sustainable way“. In middle and high school, his LV2 and LV3 were changed to electives due to his hearing loss. “Despite this I wanted to see if I could learn a foreign language.” For Etienne, learning a language “Their structures, their ways of being in the world, separate, and it’s fun if I do say so myself!”

However, many French people choose to be self-taught. “It takes a lot of effort and determination.” Constance, who holds a master’s degree in international solidarity management, sighs. “I use the Asimil method, it’s intuitive and straight to the point. I retroplan every week.”, she explains. Its goal? “I’m going to Africa for an internship, and I don’t want to spout one-liners to the locals for three months.”. Is it difficult? “Yes, it is difficult. No one is forcing me to learn it, no one is learning it.”she adds. “It’s not the same sentence construction, it’s not the same grammar.”

» Read more – Basque, Occitan, Gascon… Why learn a regional language?

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Once started, enthusiasts of rare languages ​​are involved. Laura knows English and Spanish. “My father was Kurdish, and that definitely contributed to my desire to find something else.”. The Hungarian’s discovery was shocking. “I thought it better to completely change the grammar I was used to” She explains. So, from Hungarian to Persian, from Persian to Turkish, then he went to Japanese, Polish, Russian. Not all at once, “We run the risk of mixing everything up, so I do that from time to time.”. She laments that precision of vocabulary and subtleties of grammar are soon forgotten. “You should come more often,” She instructs. “I also did a little Sanskrit, but it was too difficult. Then I plan to learn Old Norse! I always want to learn more languages.

“Old Norse translation exercises, legends of King Harold hunting snakes, it’s so fascinating! »

About Cyprian, Old Norse.

Speakers breathe new life into these rare languages, much to the delight of the locals. Laurent learned Hindi and Urdu and worked in India for two years. “When Indians see that a foreigner has made an effort to learn their language and take an interest in their culture, they are very emotional.” He explains. In France there are hardly any French people who can speak Swahili, Khmer and Hindi. Selin started learning Khmer in the 2000s, when there was no Unicode, or computer alphabet, for the language. “My first text message in Khmer was in 2007 or 2008! To communicate with a Khmer speaker, you had to send them an attached file. If it wasn’t the same font, you ended up with Mickey’s size 32”.. For 25 years, the Khmers could not write in their own language, but in Cantonese, Asian English. According to UNESCO, a language disappears every two weeks.

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But some choose to resurrect them. Cyprian studied Old Norse in the third grade, self-taught. It is the language of the Vikings, an ancient Scandinavian variety that Tolkien was particularly drawn to: “It was the name of the language that attracted me. The origins of an archaic language, the heroes, are very legendary“. No challengeDiscover how we can learn the language, not just learning it!“. For example, you have to do it on the Internet with grammars that are no longer published.”The new 2023 handbook has not been delivered to us! Above all he was attracted by the originality of the themes covered for learning the language. “I’m fed up with Spanish exercises on business, gender equality” He laughs. “Old Norse translation exercises legends of King Harold hunting snakes, it’s so fascinating!”