Trying to fall in love with French

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This is my last week of French classes, for now at least. I was supposed to be finished last week, but I decided to enroll in another week to round it up to a four-week lesson. Reflecting on how much I've learned in four weeks, I really feel like I've come a long way. I've still got SO much further to go, but I'm more confident in a few of my skills, and I think I've increased the overall versatility of my speech. But, as I said before, I've got a long ways to go.

I still can't fully express myself in French - or even mostly express myself. I find I'm constantly asking how to say something or another in French and repeating the same words or phrases over and over. Many times, midway through a thought that I can't quite get across, I stop and decide to cut myself off for fear of saying the wrong thing or sounding stupid. I know it's all part of the learning process, but it's an exhausting feeling to be defeated each and every day by a language that makes no sense. I found some consolation today in class when a girl who has command of Portuguese, Spanish and English told me of her frustrations with learning the French language. Those seated next to us were also in agreement that the language is so complex and completely taxing. I mentioned that when I was living in Italy, I would find myself dreaming in Italian, thinking in Italian and feeling the language; conversely, it's never been like that for me with French. Sure, I studied Italian for a few semesters, but I never practiced, never listened to Italian radio or watched Italian TV on a daily basis, and I don't ever remember thinking of it as such a laborious subject. What I do recall is feeling like I was meant to speak the language, like it was somewhere in me all along, just waiting to be brought to life. I don't have that same feeling with French.

After class today, I found myself dreaming about moving away from France to Italy or Spain. I don't think that's something Gui and I would ever really do without a really good reason, but it was nice to think of how much easier life might be if I could live in a foreign country and be able to speak the language with comfort and confidence, working and enjoying my life as an "insider" rather than someone trying to figure it out. Then, I could really start my life there - do real work instead of going to school to learn how to read and write and talk; I could do so many things that I dream of doing here, like volunteering and taking music lessons, but instead I find there's always that black cloud of non-fluency looming over, reminding me of my below-par skill set.

I really hope (and plan) to one day master the language enough to get a job and converse freely with friends and family, but I don't imagine that will be anytime soon. A week from Friday, we have my carte de sejour meeting at the prefecture where I believe they'll assess my skill level (or send me somewhere to do that) to determine if language classes will be needed and if so, how much. It's part of this new integration contract they're implementing throughout France. I'm all for getting 200-400 hours of free language classes, and I want nothing more than to find my passion for French like I found for Italian. Yet, some part of me still yearns for the easy way, for a way to bypass months ( if not years) of language classes just to get to the point that I was at eight months ago (geesh! I've been jobless for eight months, who in the world is going to hire me?!). Sometimes I feel like I'm going backwards or not going at all, and it worries me to ponder where my professional life and personal ambitions will be in a year. All I hope is that I'm not still sitting in a class with the same folks trying to figure out how to politely say, "may I please have a baguette and a chocolate eclair?"


ellemabelle said...

hmm... who is going to hire you? Listen, you tell them that you were taking an extended vacation like the bourgeouise twenty-somethings do. You know travelling learning about new cultures, exploring the world. They will think you are super worldly and and sophisticated.

Jonnifer said...

Hang in there, it will get easier. This is just the beginning. Do you think it feels harder than Italian because you are expecting more of yourself? I had always taken French, and when I started Spanish I felt like, Oh, maybe I'm not so good at languages after all... But after a little while it had found its proper place in my brain and it felt easier.

Good luck with your carte de séjour. They will assess your French level later, at your visite médicale, and offer you free French lessons if you need them or want them.

Jonnifer said...

BTW, have you considered getting a job in an English-speaking company, just until your French is better? Or perhaps volunteer: you'll stay busy and learn a lot of French!

Yu Ming Lui said...

Hey I know how you feel. When I moved to Tokyo, all I could do was to take lessons.

I, too, worried a lot about where I would be career-wise in the long run because it's just not that fun learning a foreign language day-in-day-out with such feelings of uncertainty.

But, hang in there, because when you do get your head around French, life will unfold for you in a great way.

misplaced texan said...

elle: Brilliant! I'm totally going to use that during interviews and in cover letters. I remember saying something like that when I was trying to gain readmission to university...I hope it works as well on the French as is did with the admissions office.

jonnifer: You might have hit the nail on the head - I think my main problem is expecting too much from myself. I'm so taking any free language courses they offer me, too. I'm looking into English-speaking companies, but not finding much in terms of English-only positions. Now that I'm slightly more conversant in French, I'm going to search for some temp or part-time volunteer work to do while I continue my search. You're right, it will really help me learn more French!

yu ming lui: Thank you for the encouragement - it helps more than one might think to hear success stories from people who've been in a similar position!

lulu said...

Don't worry my little frustrated friend. Aside from your extremely high and impossible expectiations of yourself, we are all very proud of you and extremely impressed on how far you've come.

Have patience and be proud of your accomplishments. It may feel like you have your hands tied behind your back, but your wings will unfold before you know it.

Love and miss you -
bon courage

misplaced texan said...

lulu: Thank you, my lovely mother-to-be! I'm definitely blessed with an unearthly set of friends and that helps when things start gettin' rough! Love and miss you, too!

Candy said...

you're doing something most people are too afraid to..i am SO proud of you and I don't think I could have even stuck it out for this long! You are a strong woman!

Evolutionary Revolutionary said...

Ah, well I can say I know how you feel. I'm terrified I'll never learn. But I'm amazed that every day I put a few new words into my head and sometimes even retain them! French is truly a difficult language - I've been talking with my mom about it a lot because she is fluent in Spanish. I think the key is in the grammar. I'm trying to brush up on my English grammar skills and then I think I will be able to understand the French grammar better. It's a very grammatical language. ...But then there are the bags and bags of memorization! (No rules for masculine or feminine?? WTF??!)

Anyway, the Frenchies reported you as basically fluent, so I don't want to hear it!!!

JV said...

Sarah: Don't Give UP! You are not a quitter...if French was a brick wall, I know for a fact you would figure out how to reach the other side. You GO Girl!

Watch or listen to French everything. I'm sending you your E/F left several here and you have some tapes I could send you. You WILL speak French...I believe in you!!! :)

JV said...

oh! and you will speak it beautifully.


An American in France said...

A great way to learn French is to immerse yourself in it. You've done a lot actually moving to France! Maybe if your husband and you took turns speaking English and French. I had a teacher in high school whose wife was Japanese and they did this with their daughter so she would be bilingual. One week they would speak nothing but Japanese and the next would be English.

Bluefish said...

French is not easy but it's still part of Latin language family. If you can speak Italian or Spanish, French shouldn't be that difficult.

I went to French schools since the age of 9 until I attended English college and university. Obviously my English is much better than French, which I am ashamed of because I lost a lot of it.

I live in a city where people are mostly bilingual, therefore, it's easy to switch between languages when talking to someone.

I wish you all the best and once you can master the grammar, you'll be able to say whatever you want. I must admit that sometimes I don't understand French accent quite well. French people never seem to understand me when I ask them "vous avez une ordinateur?. "Quoi?", ils disent. "Un laptop?" *crickets* It's never fun when two individuals can't understand each other.

Take care now.

Saretta said...

I went through the same sort of thing years ago when I moved to Italy. I had a good grasp of Spanish (which I have since forgotten, after mixing it with Italian and then picking out the Spanish bits until only Italian was left!) and some survival Japanese and this new language seemed so much trouble to learn! One thing that helped me was that my husband and I decided to communicate in Italian only. I also used to read the newspaper...ok, "read" is once took me 8 hours to get through the front page! There were days when I would scream "what am I doing here!?," but eventually it got easier... Be patient and kind to yourself, you'll see, you're not as dumb as you feel! That's a joke, ok? But, I do feel that learning a foreign language requires the ability to risk making a fool of yourself every time you open your mouth... Hang in there!

Evolutionary Revolutionary said...

P.S. - You will have your very own friends right in Paris VERY SOON. :)

TEXAS SARAH. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.