I looked forward to taking a foreign language long before I reached high school. When the time came, I had five languages to choose from. For some reason, I chose French. I don’t really even remember debating it. Maybe it’s because my friends were missionaries in a French speaking country, or maybe it’s because it’s so beautiful. I really can’t remember. “Everyone” said Spanish was the more practical choice, but up until 2008, all of my international travel was to French speaking countries. Now I look back and breathe a huge sigh of relief that I chose the “right” language.
After high school, I kept studying French. I took three semesters at Miami and spent one summer in Dijon, France. Somehow those 18 credit hours were enough to equal a French minor. (Aside: I now take the train through Dijon every time I travel to Paris. Funny how life comes full circle.)
All that to say that I have a pretty solid base when it comes to this language. The opportunity lies in having the confidence that I actually know how to say what I want to say. And speed. I am SO SLOW when I speak right now. (And those who know how fast I speak in English, know how painful this is for me!)
As part of being an expat, I get to take French classes. My tutor is great, and I try to schedule a couple of lessons with her each week. Every time I show up for a class, she asks if I’ve been speaking French. For the most part, I force myself to use it out in public. Most of the people I hang out with socially speak English, so I’m typically limited to using it when running errands, eating out at restaurants, or making appointments & reservations by phone. In most of those situations, I can anticipate the response, which in turn, allows me to prepare my response. This scenario is ideal.
Now, there are other times where it gets a little more complicated. Take, for example, this morning…
My concierge is on vacation (here, concierge just means building supervisor or something -nothing fancier than that), and something was wrong with my toilet this week. So, I called the substitute concierge on Wednesday. Our entire conversation took place in French, but all I really gathered was that something was going to happen on Friday. Today, I called again, because it’s Friday, and I thought I should figure out what was supposed to happen today. The first person told me to call the building owner, explaining that they were only the substitute concierge. (Then why did they give me your number in the first place?!) The second person told me they would call a plumber, but when I said he needed to come in the afternoon, she told me to call myself. The final person, who I guess was the plumber, told me someone would be there this afternoon. When someone actually appeared this afternoon (and knew he was there to fix my toilet), I felt hugely successful. Somehow I’m learning to communicate in this crazy, complicated, beautiful language.