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Peace and Love!

J Hart F

Friday, January 7, 2011

Keep an Open Mind

After a long night amongst strangers speaking a foreign tongue, my brain feels a little rattled. For claiming to understand French, which I do understand it quite well, I can no longer say I'm near fluent. Let's face it: after seven years of disuse, my foreign vocal skills have become stale. Dealing with this realization won't be hard, but it does make me desire to take up French once more!

This eve started with a long drive to the middle of nowhere. Carpooling made it far less fearful to adventure down the darkened outskirts of the Denver Metro Area, but the three of us were all a little apprehensive of the route, I could tell. The women in the car laid their confidence in my abilities of direction and memory to get us to our destination. Luckily technology has come quite a long way. The darkness allowed a sense of self-reflection as I drove, while my 'passengers' practiced their skills with each other. I wandered the musty corridors of my French comprehension and imagined the multitude of French books accumulating in my room. I was pleased with my accomplishments: five years of high school French, the entire Harry Potter series in French, two French poetry books, a French sci-fi novella, the Larousse French Dictionary, and my many French textbooks, not to mention my tourist guides to France. Even with the preparedness I felt, nerves rose slightly as we neared the unknown turns to get to the house. I should have been paying better attention to the two women speaking French in the car.

We arrived at the quaint contemporary house in a village that sprung up during the economic and housing boom several years ago. The complex showed the signs of the recession as it was surrounded by undeveloped fields near a highway connecting more populated portions of the Metro Area. Silence permeated the cool, clear night and our feet hurried toward the door. Once inside, the atmosphere of friendly banter and enthusiastic anticipation flowed through the house. Everyone was in the kitchen, eagerly waiting for the food to be served and the comfortable, leisurely conversations to begin. As soon as people started introducing themselves to me, I suddenly understood how deficient I truly am.

Hi. It's a pleasure to meet you. What do you do?

I clearly understood the question. Answering, however, turned out to be the more difficult task. Franglais... here we go!

Even with my halted French and obvious minimal vocabulary, the faces of the men and women with whom I conversed waited patiently for my tale, prompting me with proper forms of speech and continuing on with the conversation as if my deficiency was either normal or unnoticed. They all understood and seemed appreciative of my willingness and desire to speak with them and be a part of their group. Dinner was served nonchalantly and consumed with high praise. We fawned over the stewed pork and mushrooms, salivated over the exotic French cheeses, devoured warm polenta, and died with chocolate mousse and swiss cookies. While we consumed the delectable delicacies, my brain syphoned through the words spoken so naturally, so quickly, so fluently. I started to feel stretched like too little l'Epoisses over too much bread. It was fantastic and tiring all at the same time; however usual the feeling tends to be.

And then the night ended, rather abruptly but not unexpectedly. After all, there might have only been two or three people under thirty years old, myself included. As we left, one of my passengers asked me, in the car about to turn onto the long, dark road back home, "I noticed you were listening a lot; and did you understand? Did you comprehend what was said?"

"Yes. I understood a lot more than what I could say," I stumble, trying to think about what I was saying and therefore translate it in my head for next time. The translating wasn't going so well.

"Ah, yes. Well, soon you will find yourself speaking. It takes a lot of passive listening, and a lot of work; but if you keep an open mind you will get it faster!"

The rest of my journey home recycled her words over and over again. Perhaps it's truly time to pick up my books, go online and watch French movies, turn on TV5 Monde and listen to the pure French, and pick up my old textbooks and start revisiting the unfamiliar. Essentially, feeling like a fool, though not completely unintelligent, ignited the passion for linguistics and foreign languages.

Je parlerai français bien la prochaine fois que je vais au dîner français.


  1. This is so exciting!! I think we should start a regularly scheduled get together aimed at perfecting our French! Well, you can perfect your French while you teach me because I haven't spoken it since high school. Now I pretty much only remember what my French teacher used to bark at me because she had to do it repeatedly because I didn't pay attention to A) my homework and B) her.

    In my defense she had a thick Irish accent so I probably wasn't getting the best pronunciations.

    Great. Now I'm going to have nightmares about her screaming. "Claude! Nombre de question de reponse un!"

    Also, I had to go my 'Claude' in my French class and that's just mean.

  2. Oh Madame O'Brien. At least... that's who I imagine you're referring to. I had her as well... and oh the bad French-Irish accent... So many incorrect pronunciations.

  3. Hooray! I'm glad the dinner went so well for you tonight! It's very exciting to hear you plan on improving your French. Keep it up and keep us updated!!