Well, I finally did it. I signed up for French classes, and it only took me ten years!
After all this time, knowing I was to become a French citizen sometime after my marriage, I put off taking language classes until next month – a whole three years after my wedding vows! And now that I’m staring down a date stamped with “French 101,” it’s no surprise to me why I waited. The idea of heading into that class without even a subtle grasp of French is scary. Combine this worry with the daunting task of having to hack my way through pronunciation. And then, there’s this HUGE gap between saying a sentence in a classroom and attempting to communicate with a real Parisian. It feels like I have a giant Alp to climb and no little chalet for shelter!
It is always hard to be a complete beginner, but there’s something about starting a language journey that is particularly overwhelming.
I probably should already know French. Truth be told, I have been to France enough times and spend every waking moment with a native speaker that I should have thrown myself into the language sooner than this. But when you’re visiting a country like France, that is so chic and judgmental, the last thing you want to whip out is your lame tourist phrases. Once, Jon taught me how to say “can I have more sugar please,” for my coffee, and I nearly died of shame stammering through encore de sucre s’il vous plaît! I did, however, receive more sugar, which I suppose was the point of the exercise. But ultimately, I’ve been more comfortable playing the coy patron who stares blankly at a fluent speaker, embarrassed that I haven’t a clue as to what they’re saying. The French language so beautifully curls off their tongues, that I am almost ashamed to interrupt with my brash American forwardness. I will have to get considerably more comfortable with working my mouth around those challenging, and subtle, letters. C’est la vie!
In high school I took four years of Latin and was teased constantly for learning a dead language – that’s how much of a waste people thought it was. There were a lot of positives, however. I learned conjugations and sentence structure. I learned the root of many words in English and Romantic languages, and we even got to do a chariot race at the end of every year. My experience does harken back to that nerdalicious moment in The Breakfast Club where Brian shares that he was in the “Latin Club” (I was, in fact, a member too). I feel like I got to a place where, while I couldn’t speak fluent Latin, I had a firm grip on the academic side of the language. Of course this will help me as I begin to learn French too!
And so here I am, again feeling like a middle-schooler stepping into my first English class, a freshman finding out that I don’t know a thing about chemistry, or a college student who’s never been away from my parents for more than a week. There’s a subtle fear in the back of my mind of being in a class surrounded by children, all ahead of me, while I’m trying to remember my French ABC’s. It’s humbling, as is anything where you are a beginner, but the most exciting thing is that I signed up. And the start is always the challenge when trying something new.
At least there is comfort and relief in entering a classroom again – I’ve always been a fantastic student. So, wish me luck!
Did you ever struggle to learn a new language, and what were some of the ways you dealt with it? P.S. We took these images in the South of France after our wedding, and I’ve never shared them before. I hope they make you daydream of spring!