A new challenge: Les Mis en francais




By Caitlin Kelly

Because I need to do something with my brain that’s just for me.

I play Scrabble on the computer at the advanced level and read a lot but want to keep the old head in gear and sharpen my wits as best I can.

I studied French for three years at University of Toronto, decades ago, but only to make sure I could work in it as a reporter, which I did in my 20s and 30s.

But I never studied French literature! Never poetry! What a loss.

I’ve been watching and enjoying the BBC series of “Les Misérables”, which prompted me to get a copy of the book — written in 1832 by Victor Hugo — from our library system.

I still have my trusty French-English dictionary from college, so feel ready to go.

I read out loud to practice my accent and had forgotten what a workout it is physically to speak French! I began studying it in Toronto in elementary school and later lived for eight months in Paris and have been back many, many times.

I like to say I am fluent, and am confident in most situations that don’t demand highly specialized vocabularies (science, tech, medicine, etc.)

We’ll see how many of its 1,651 pages (!) I can get through in the six weeks the library allows.

Have you ever read it, in any language?


Have you read other books in a language that is not your native tongue?


14 thoughts on “A new challenge: Les Mis en francais

  1. Love your photo! I never had French in school, but had a French play group for my son when he was little because wanted him to hear good French (from all the other parents, most of whom were native speakers) while still young enough to get it! I believe very strongly in the importance and value of having more than one language even though I don’t have that myself. I admire your effort in maintaining and expanding your language abilities!!

      1. Silly maybe, but the pic totally communicates the feeling of trying to grasp another language – that’s what I was responding to! I love it that you put your experiences out there the way you do. You’re letting us know you.

      2. Thanks!

        I only read 11 pages today — in 30 minutes. It’s really tiring but also feels like something worthwhile AND fun. Sometimes his sentences (and his piercing moral clarity) stop me in my tracks.

        Yeah, that pic…omg. No makeup. No brushed hair. Oh well!

  2. I’m not big on classic novels, so I haven’t read Les Miserables (and I have no plans to see the musical when it comes to Columbus).
    And the last time I tried to read a book in another language, it was for Hebrew class in high school. And I’m just glad I made it through those classes! Even books for young children were difficult for me.

    1. I have to say, so far (only 35 pages in) it’s not boring or stuffy, which I feared. I am wayyyyyy behind in reading many many classics (like War & Peace, Anna Karenina, all of Jane Austen, Moby Dick, etc) so at least I thought I would try.

      The BBC series is very compelling and makes the characters appealing…without some notion of what it’s about already I would not have felt attracted enough to try.

      1. I can kind of understand that. I’m reading the original novels an anime I’m watching is based on. Sure, I know what’s going to happen, but it’s a compelling story, so I’m interested to see where it originated and where it might go after the anime wraps (even if it gets a second season, it’ll be at least a year before it comes out).

  3. I never have, the most I’ve read in another language were just a few short pages in French class many years ago. don’t know if I could even do it now, I’m way out of practice. bravo to you for this amazing undertaking –

    1. I figured I really needed to see if i do understand French as well as I say I do or think I do. I am very aware (ugh) that my intonation needs a lot of work — I remember that from the language labs in college…not just being able (difficult enough) to pronounce the words properly, but there’s a sing-song quality I am definitely missing.

      I am enjoying guessing (correctly) some words from context and learning new vocabulary.

  4. That sort of immersion in the pop culture of other languages is something I try to do–French-language pop music is my favourite. Books? Well, I have a shelf of titles, untouched for years.

    1. Right? I do have a few French CDs (music) like Mano Solo (who has since died) and we listen almost daily online to TSF Jazz from Paris, but much of what they play (!) is actually American.

  5. I have read a fair number of books in French. Books with specialized vocabularies are the easiest, because specialized nouns are usually cognates with the English form.

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