Parlez-vous Francais?

by Britta on 20 September 2009

in European Adventure,General

Moi, oui. Sort of. Two weeks’ worth of French lessons have greatly improved my capacity to speak and understand. Alas, my last day of lessons has come and gone, and I was just feeling as if I was getting the hang of it. Unfortunately, the lessons are expensive, and there are so many other things to do and see, in France and beyond, that I feel as if I just don’t have the time. It’s like work—it really cramps my style!

Here’s the thing about learning another language: It’s not a continuous upward curve of knowledge and learning. The graph doesn’t have a steady diagonal trajectory. It’s a series of climbs and plateaus. I experienced this when I was in Chile, speaking Spanish. I’d really feel like I was progressing one week, learning new words—and remembering them—and being able to speak at a level that was different than what I was at before. But then the next week I’d feel like I had stopped in my tracks. Things wouldn’t come together, I’d get frustrated searching for words and phrases, I’d make the same mistakes even when I had already learned the corrections. And then, eventually, I’d progress again. So far, the trend has continued with French.

And now, my lessons are over. The painful and often frustrating process is now compounded by the fact that my formal training is over. I’ve been on an upward trend this week—even my fellow students complimented me on the fact that my French was better this week than last. Hopefully that will continue. I’ve already had several conversations solely in French, and even some with people who are not students of French!

A friend came to visit me this week, and she doesn’t speak French. So, of course, it was up to me to explain the things she couldn’t understand, translate the simple conversations we had with French speakers (though those were few, as most people we encountered spoke English), and navigate around the city. It made me realize that I actually understood more French than I thought, and that realization gave me a little more confidence than I had before. That, coupled with the rapid learning during the lessons, enabled me to break through last week’s plateau. The goal, then, is to keep the upward trend that I’m on going as long as I can, before the next plateau, and its inevitable frustrations, sets in.

I haven’t figured out how to predict or how to break through these plateaus yet. I suppose if I could, I’d have discovered one of the mind’s big secrets. It’s like writer’s block, and I’ve read countless articles on how to beat that. Whether their techniques work or not, I’m not sure. It’s probably different for everyone, and for every situation, but sometimes it’s a matter of trying too hard, of forcing it to come, rather than trusting it to come. And that, of course, is that hardest thing to do when it’s the thing you most want. (It reminds me that my Spanish was always a lot better at bars or at parties—the first couple of drinks always loosen the tongue a little, though it really only lasts through the third or fourth drink. After that everything starts to fall apart, including English…)

I suppose that this happens with other disciplines as well, though for me it’s most obvious with language, because it’s so essential to daily life, at least in the situations I put myself in. And That’s the best part, though, and the part that makes it all worth it—the frustrations and disappointments, as well as the triumphs and successes—being able to communicate, to live, to thrive in another place and in another language. It’s like reading the book instead of just seeing the movie. The movie is good, but the book goes so much deeper and is so much more memorable. Living in Paris in French, instead of in English. Parlez-vous Francais?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pat Perry September 23, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Wow, I like how your challenge yourself. Are you ready for Swiss German? At least it’s Octoberfest, and the beers will loosen the fears!

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