Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Loving French

When it came time to pick a language for my high school's foreign language requirement, I chose French. I liked the sound of French, so fancy, so melodic. Around the same time, I was interested in the Tour de France, and that greatly contributed to my Francophile desires. It was the language that I wanted to master, that I dreamed to be fluent in.

I liked the crazy rules of French: nouns having gender, choosing the correct articles, negating verbs, conjugating verbs. I liked reading in French. A whole world of books open up when you learn another language. I thought that being a translator would be a fine career, and advertisements for the Middlebury Language Schools would always catch my eye. The idea of immersing myself in the language sounded very appealing.

Of course, it's difficult to achieve any kind of fluency unless you're practicing the language with other native speakers. I was able to mimic the accent, but that's all I was able to do: imitate. Forget understanding, or speaking off the cuff. I was good at passing French tests, but that doesn't make one a French speaker.

As I got older, I began to acquire French experiences: going to a French store near Rockefeller Center in NYC (I remember buying a copy of L'Equipe, the sports newspaper), visiting Quebec on a family trip (I ordered 3 small sodas which turned into 3 large sodas), then being roommates with a Frenchman in college (though we spoke mostly English together).

I finally got to live out some of my French dreams when my wife and I took a trip to Paris for our 5th anniversary. By then I was many years out of school and very out of practice. I bought CDs to brush up on the language and a pocket French/English dictionary. We were only there for a week, but as the days progressed I felt my fluency improving. How could it not? Everyone around us was speaking the language of my dreams!

I remember the last French conversation I had there. I asked the hotel shuttle operator if this was the bus to the airport, and if so, when would we be leaving. Simple questions, with simple answers. I was able to understand the shuttle driver, and he was able to understand me, and for a quick moment I let myself believe I was this different person. Incroyable!

Photo by Jason Taellious

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