Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Language

My daughter started seventh grade yesterday and was thrilled to see she'd gotten into the French class she had requested as an elective. Today she had her first class and determined the teacher to be "awesome." This pronouncement no doubt derives to some degree from the fact that most of today's time was devoted to a discussion of the class trip to Paris in March. I can certainly understand this. If someone spent a half hour telling me about what we would be doing in Paris for a week, I'd probably be ready to marry him before the bell rang.

But then I've already been there a couple of times, although alas the last was two decades ago. At that point, I was unquestionably going to be heading back for many visits in the next twenty years, although I hadn't quite worked out how I was going to do so in between being a good wife, having babies and making a living. So instead I get to anticipate the trip with my daughter, who is really excited about learning the language beyond the basics she picked up last year. This really is as much fun as thinking about going back myself.

My own experience with the French language wasn't in a classroom but in my front yard when I was preschooler trying to make friends. In those days there weren't playdates--you played with whatever kid was around on your street, and on my street in Eastern Ontario pretty much everyone was speaking French, so I learned it without really thinking about it and now it's a part of my brain, so I am quite lucky.

On the rare occasions when I actually hear French spoken, when I visit my parents in Ottawa or at home in Texas--never in Fort Worth, but every once in a while when I am in a particularly tony spot in Dallas--I understand it perfectly. But last spring at a company meeting in Atlanta, there were a couple of Belgian lawyers at a cocktail party who were determined to get me to speak it, and I was paralyzed by a fear of making a mistake. Likewise when a friend took me to a lovely party in Chicago to meet the parents of her children's classmates at the Lycee Francaise. Now I get to practice it with my daughter, and won't worry about being perfect, but it's occurred to me that I do need to get comfortable with it again, just in case there is an explosion of Francophile culture in Cowtown.

The Alliance Francaise has great programs and classes in cities in almost every state in the US, as well as in 137 other countries. The cost is reasonable, but for me to get someplace once a week for an hour regularly is not really a possibility with full-time work and two kids. But I've decided I might download some lessons from iTunes or maybe go to Half-Price Books and pick up some audio lessons to brush up during my two hour commute.

If I were really practical, I'd learn Spanish, which clearly would serve me much better in Texas than would French. But that seems like the linguistic equivalent of eating my peas and carrots. I'd rather have some smelly, politically incorrect foie gras.

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