This story is dedicated to my parents, who made an epic trek north to visit me in Québec City four years ago. On that Father’s Day weekend, I was beginning another month of immersion in French — only the second round of four, as it turned out — but the real education I received that summer was about how much that city rocks. It was so great that Seb and I went back the following summer, and very soon we’ll be there to soak it all up yet again. Happy birthday, Mom, and happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thank you for exploring this fantastic place with me. Come back anytime. And a special thank you to Réjean, Édith, and Mélanie, for welcoming me, tolerating my attempts to stay in French, and showing me around La Belle Province four years ago. À bientôt!
Just a quick update to let you all know the latest news — Tout va bien au Congo. The election period passed without too many problems, although without a new president, either. The administration and the opposition have agreed to hold elections later this year, although I’ve heard that both sides are missing notable signatories. So we’ll see. In the meantime, everyone is back to work as normal chez nous, and last week they even gave the spouses permission to return. If I hadn’t already paid for a month of French classes, I would have jumped on the same plane as Seb.
I must admit, I’m making this up. There is no controversy. The world of linguistics seems pretty settled that immersion is the best way to learn. But I think they’re all wrong. I think this should become a controversy.
I’ve known since about age eight that I had a problem with wanderlust. My earliest memories of “farsickness,” as the Germans awesomely put it, were while listening to a vinyl recording of Lady and the Tramp. Funny that a story inspired by a place in Missouri has so many foreign influences, from the Scottish terrier to the Siamese cats to the spaghetti scene in a cobblestone alleyway with Italian-accented musicians playing accordions. I played that record over and over until I probably wore it out.
Besides Walt Disney, it was my mom who encouraged my interest in all things exotic, through books and music and art. And it was her who gave me my first experience abroad. Fifteen years ago, she took me with her to Europe to meet up with my brother who was studying in Italy. Mom, I know I wasn’t the easiest to get along with, but I want you to know how meaningful that trip was for me. I still think that the air smells cleanest in Switzerland, that the best meal of my life was at our little farmhouse B&B in Tuscany, and that my coolest travel story was being homeless for a night in Paris.
I never know what to get people for their birthday, but I hope this little blog post is a sufficient way to say happy birthday and thank you, Mom. Also, look what you started.
This is post #5 of an 11-part series, the ongoing saga I call The French Tales…
September, 2011: I’ve got approximately nine months of Rosetta Stone under my belt, and am headed to France for my first intensive French course. “Intensive” is the key word here: the course runs eight and a half hours a day for five days a week, plus optional evening and weekend activities, and I signed up for four weeks. I’m hoping, maybe even expecting, to leave fluent at the end. Ha! Sounds so naïve in retrospect.
“Embrasse” is a great example of one of those French words that means roughly the opposite of what it looks like. A false friend, in linguist lingo. You would think an embrasse is an embrace… but that’s “serrer dans ses bras,” which translates literally as “holding tight in the arms” and doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. Evidently, the French have trouble even translating the word for “hug.” They’re not so much the hugging type.
When we plunked down $700 to buy the Rosetta Stone French series before leaving the States four years ago, we were obviously putting a lot of faith into it. Its slick packaging and select marketing and pricey price tag didn’t really make us question its efficacy. The only question was whether I’d have the discipline to follow it. If I did, then of course I would learn French, right? It’s practically guaranteed!
Those of us who try to learn our first foreign language as an adult are at a huge disadvantage. I’m not just talking about the common knowledge that languages are harder for adults to learn than children. (This is news to no one.) I’m talking about actual scientific evidence that monolingual brains simply aren’t wired for it.
For my grandparents, who tried traveling in Québec many years ago and immediately made for the exit. It seemed nobody wanted to help English-speaking tourists then. Today I can go purposely in search of a French immersion experience yet can’t keep strangers from switching to English with me. So you guys should try it again. Happy Grandparents Day, a little late!
When I say that I still don’t speak French fluently, after nearly four years of trying, most people are surprised to hear that. “Really, still??” a friend from home asked just the other day. These were probably a few of the thoughts running through his head:
- But you live in a French-speaking country with a French-speaking husband!
- What have you been doing for four years then??
- I feel like I’m making quick progress as a beginner! What’s wrong with you?
- OMG, how long does it really take then??