The Bean Blog (currently on hiatus)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

French, French, French, French, French

The French language and I have had a long and mostly difficult relationship. Like most people I know, I took Spanish in high school, and I continued with it when I went to a community college after high school. Then one summer a friend of mine got a job placing French university students with American families for the month of August. She got paid per student placed. Naturally, she hit up all of her friends and family members to host a French person. I was living in Delaware with my mother at the time, and she quickly agreed to take one...and then another right at the last minute. Neither one of us spoke a word of French, but that was okay because both of the girls--well, young women--spoke English. That was why they were coming to visit in the first place. They wanted to spend some time in an English speaking country.

One of the girls was wonderful, Emily. And the other...well, not so much. We invited both of them to come back the next summer and told them they didn't have to go through the program again. They could just buy plane tickets and save the cost of being part of the program. Emily took us up on our offer and returned the next summer. And then she returned the summer after that. And she offered time and time again for me to come and visit her in France.

All those years of Spanish. And now it was French that I needed to know! My community college (Delaware Technical & Community College) did not offer any language besides Spanish (and American Sign Language--if that counts as a "foreign" language), so if I wanted to learn French, that meant going to the Fucking University of Delaware. It cost more to take one class there than it did to take four classes at Del Tech. And the University was far, far away from where I lived in north Wilmington. But I asked for the money as a birthday present, and I schlepped all the way down to Newark for the classes five days a week.

At first it went okay. I did something that I did a lot at the time and have since learned not to do: I befriended the teacher. This always turns on me in the end, because I don't like authority, and since the teacher now knows me personally, they can see that, and they end up hating me. Such is my history. During the semester, I got into a bad car accident and my car was in the shop for about three weeks. I couldn't make the trip all the way down to Newark every day. By the time I got the car back, I'd missed 15 classes. Since you got a percentage point taken away from your final grade for each class you missed, and I was a B student (at that time), I was down to about a 70. Of course, missing three weeks of classes put me at a severe disadvantage. My car was ready right around the time of the mid-term. I knew I would fail it, and by failing the mid-term, I would effectively fail the class because I would not be able to recover those 15 missing percentage points. I tried to get an incomplete, but my teacher had decided to hate me by this time, and she wouldn't give me one. When I appealed to the dean of the romance languages department, the dean refused to give me the incomplete and then said something along the lines of, "I understand that you're a community college student. You know, some people just aren't cut out to go to a university." Hey bitch, I'm going to an ivy league university now and carrying a 3.87 GPA, so suck my dick, you whore!

But I digress.

By the time I went to visit Emily in France, years later, I didn't remember any of the few weeks of French I'd taken. And Emily's parents didn't speak a word of English. But it was okay. I liked it there, and I decided that I wanted to take French again and then go back, able to communicate better.

Right after I returned from France, I moved to Philadephia. The Community College of Philadelphia (much larger than Del Tech) did offer French, and I took four semesters of it there. And then I decided to finally get my bachelor's degree, so I applied to and was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania. Now, I should have taken the placement test right there and then. But I didn't. Some time went by, and I still didn't. I was steadily losing my French.

Around the time I was applying to Penn, Emily had applied to become an exchange student of sorts through her university in France. This program was for graduate students, and it allowed French graduate students to go to an American university to take classes and to teach elementary French. And of course American graduate students did the same in France (except they taught English, obviously). Emily wanted to go to a university in Boston or California, but she was the University of Pennsylvania! She started teach elementary French, and she allowed me to audit her class without having to pay the auditors fee (which is actually the same as if you were taking the class for credit--what a rip-off!).

But since I was auditing, I didn't feel that compelled to go to all of the classes (again, five days a week). And my French never got good enough to place me out of Penn's language requirement. Now I am making a compromise: I'm going to only transfer 3 of my classes from CCP and take the last one at Penn. Next semester. And I've barely looked at French in well over a year. And I need to get up to speed. And I need to be working very hard so that come January 10, I won't die in French 140. And four days have gone by, and I haven't done a goddamn thing. Not good. Not good at all.


  • Foreign languages come and go so easily. Nicole has taken 8 years of french, she even went to Paris for 6 weeks, but now that she's out of school, it's slowly starting to slip away. So what I'm trying to say is this:

    Q: What do you call someone who knows three languages?
    A: Trilingual
    Q: What do you call someone who knows two languages?
    A: Bilingual
    Q: What do you call someone who only knows one language?
    A: American

    By Blogger Dan, at 2:11 PM, December 07, 2004  

  • Or British.

    I wish I could speak other languages, but it's the learning of them that gets me. I always found the lessons really dull, which is always gonna happen when you don't get the chance to put them into practice. Five years of German, (in which I didn't visit Germany once), and I hardly remember anything.

    I have this vague plan to use my EU passport during my mid twenties, and just move to Paris or Berlin for a year or so. Totally immerse myself, and how could I fail to learn the lingo?

    By Blogger Fyse, at 7:28 PM, December 07, 2004  

  • Yikes! Be sure not to make any Russian friends... ~;^) Just think of all the French words we've adopted into the English eclair and petit four and cafe and croissant and Au Bon Pain and... All right, I'll go now. ~;^) I think I hear the kitchen calling me...

    By Blogger foxymama, at 3:05 PM, December 08, 2004  

  • Dan, I know, we're horrible. C'est la vie. (I'm practicing already.)

    Fyse, I wish I could just go to Europe to live and work. You're very lucky with this EU thing that you can move through so many diverse cultures so easily. I'm jealous. :)

    Foxy, Don't forget petit dejuener!!!! ;)

    By Blogger Oz, at 4:53 PM, December 08, 2004  

  • Oh, I was hoping you'd forgotten that... Gee, shucks... ~;^)

    By Blogger foxymama, at 7:00 PM, December 08, 2004  

  • My big mistake growing up in a French society was assuming I'd learn the local language in a classroom. Although I picked up the basics from the blackboard, I wasn't fully conversational until I hit the streets and deliberately used the language every day.

    I don't suspect good ol' PA has a whole lot of French speakers on the streets with whom you can engage in the ages-old art of bavardage. Folks I know who've wanted to learn a language later in life have done well with immersion programs in Ontario and Quebec. When you're forced to speak it and live it all the time, you internalize it far more effectively than when you cover it once a week in a book. That's only the starting point.

    (Trilingual) Carmi

    By Blogger Carmi, at 1:20 PM, December 09, 2004  

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