Sometimes I really want to throw in the French towel. It’s been nearly eight months that I’ve been living here, trying to develop some proficiency with the language. And yet I still feel clumsy and tongue-tied. In fact, more often than not, I feel I’ve regressed. It’s like I’m never going to learn the language; I’ll never be able to say what I want, how I want, when I need to.
Saturday night, for example, I was at a dinner party with nine French people. I couldn’t understand the conversation for most of the night. And when I tried to participate in the conversation (don’t laugh), I couldn’t find the right words or form the right thoughts.
And on Sunday, I attended a conversational French class but was so frustrated by my inability to understand the others foreigners’ accents and articulate my own thoughts in French that I left early. To have dinner with my American friends.
It makes me wonder why I devote so much time to studying when nothing seems to stick. It’s like my brain has holes in it and all the French leaks out. I know that’s defeatist thinking, just as I know I have indeed picked up some French while living here, but still—I wonder what the point is sometimes.
So I was a little heartened by Josephine’s support during our lesson this morning. She reassured me that I am making progress and that sometimes you do have to step back in order to move forward. But the most encouraging thing she said was to focus on talking about what I love. For example, at my next dinner party, I should talk about visiting towns like Nantes and Biarritz and French food and restaurants. She said that when you talk about things you love, this little “internal motor” makes us process things quicker. Speaking becomes easier. It’s good advice. I’m going to become the American who’s obsessed with food and travel.