Wallie the Imp and I love learning foreign languages. However, no matter how much one enjoys a subject, there are times when learning is less a pleasure than an exercise. Having learned only the rudiments of Impish myself, I have to admit that learning a language is slow going. And how better to explore this frustration than by introducing French at the Mad Tea Party?
“It is ‘partout!'”
“It is ‘surtout!'”
“Oh, don’t be such a flitwick. It’s ‘portent’ and ‘toutefois!'”
“What a curious thing,” said the Hatter, smiling. “What an infinitely curious thing.”
At this they looked, and frowned.
The Dormouse rested her fist emphatically on the frayed tablecloth before her.
“Really, Hatter!” she said. “If you can’t help, be silent!”
The March Hare tittered. “Aye, be silent, bats and bells, sugar anyone?”
The White Rabbit polished his monocle in a nervous, fidgeting motion.
“Did you have something to say, Hatter?” he ventured.
The Hatter, both nonplussed and amused by the reception of his remark, shot a quick, sly glance in the Dormouse’s direction before lowering his eyes to the neglected teapot.
“I was merely thinking to myself,” he said, “thinking—and thinking is better than speaking is it not, for you shouldn’t have one without the other but one is so often lacking where the other gimbles gay—I was thinking what a detriment, a distraction, a discord does thought make to learning speech. At odd ends. Not always. ‘Pas toujours,’ the French might—”
“What you are trying to say,” said the Dormouse, furious, “is that only stupid people can learn a foreign language! Or speak at all!”
“Why no, my dear Mouse, and pray pardon if I offend,” said the Hatter with a graceful tilt of his head, “I only say, friends, that you must let go, as it were, of ire and pretense, and recall that it is not speech that makes being, but the speaker that gives being to the speech.”
The White Rabbit coughed.
“I believe I know what you mean,” he said. “And if so, you’re right of course, but it doesn’t really help us, now, does it, with this language book being so deucedly difficult, and so entirely foreign.”
“Like crumbs with kittles!”’ cried the March Hare. “Kittles!”
“Perhaps,” said the Hatter. “But then you must look at it this way. Pardonnez-moi, mais je pense que le seule difficulté—”
“You made a mistake,” said the Dormouse.
“…la seule difficulté est votre sentiment que la personne…la personne…”
“And there you see how hard it is.”
“Of course, mais oui, bien-sur, and do you see why? Because I am thinking in English, not French! I say to myself, now how to translate this sentence into French, all in my head, without the words that should come readily to mind. It is crumbs with kittles, but it’s also practice and patience. So, so.”