Let me explain my relationship with the French language. In 7th grade, I was in a class called International Foreign Language, where we were basically given a smorgasbord of different languages and cultures to learn about. French, Spanish, German. Needless to say, I quickly fell in love with French. Can’t really explain it; maybe it was how it sounded, the chateaus, the croissants. By the time I reached 9th grade, where I could finally choose which language to study, there was no doubt: français all the way.
However. There’s a difference between hearing that lilting language and learning it. I came to despise verb conjugations and masculine vs. feminine. All I wanted was to move to Paris and communicate with the proprietors of various boulangeries. I didn’t sign up for passé composé and conditionnel. (If you speak French, congratulations for knowing what I’m referring to, and you feel my pain, don’t you? Or do you, le traitor?) But guess what? The love was too strong. I couldn’t leave. Deep down, I didn’t want to. Year and after year, I sat in the next-level French class (somehow passing, might I add), convinced that the same remedial part of my brain that couldn’t get Math was stopping me from comprehending the mechanics of this language. Yet I was still hopeful that I’d join the ranks of the kids who were now practically fluent.By the time sophomore year in college came and it was time to take a language course, the Stockholm Syndrome returned. I signed up for French like an automaton, forgetting that those conjugations and verbs weren’t going anywhere.
Enter Professor Oliver Morgan.
He looked like Tim Matheson. I suppose that’s what stopped me from dropping the class. (This Square Peg freely admits moments of superficiality.) He was also charming, had a wry and cool sense of humor, and was a great teacher. I couldn’t stand him. Read on. I could see it his eyes: he was going to teach me French whether I liked it or not. He wasn’t going to throw his hands up in defeat like my French teachers in the past who couldn’t get me to speak in anything other than present tense and short phrases, which therefore allowed me to rest on my laurels and gaze at posters of chateaus. He was going to woo me with stories of his French wife and their bilingual children who spent 6 months of the year in France. He was going to call on me and force me to speak to him only in French. And because I saw that determination in his eyes, how he ignored my scowls and sarcasm, I found him highly irritating. In the end, I supposed that determination and his handsome face worked. I started paying attention in class. My comprehension improved somewhat. I passed tests with more than my ability to remember vocabulary words. Because essentially, that was it, the problem I had from the beginning: I could remember all the words. I just struggled to put them all together and in the correct tenses. Finally, in Senior Year, I took my last French class. Guess who the professor was? We had a much better time together.
Last year, I met some new French-speaking friends who, to my everlasting shock, marveled at my “perfect” French accent. I almost collapsed. I told them of my past struggles. They waved it off and continued complimenting me and said to stick with it. Whaaat? Following that, some friends and I went on a trip to Montreal, where I stunned myself by conversing with people in my usual Frenglish, but–wait for it–more French than English! Again, whaaat?
One day, my dream of living in France will come true. I, too, will walk to the local bakery and order mountains of baguettes like Professor Morgan’s children. I figure that living there and being immersed in the language and culture will cause a miraculous loosening of my brain and tongue, releasing all the French hiding in the medulla since was I was 14 years old. Until then, Frenglish it is.
Oh, other lessons I learned: 1) try, try again; 2) don’t give up; 3) eat lots of sweet bread.