Pratique, la patience et la ténacité

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Yesterday I was frustrated. I was trying to talk but had forgotten how to. The words were on the tip of my tongue, but I just could not remember them.

Knowing a language, and then forgetting it, is (I would imagine) a bit like knowing how to walk and then losing the ability to do so.

It’s a painful process, throwing yourself back into the grasps of the unknown known. Your mind has to catch up with your memories. And it can be an extremely frustrating process.

Yesterday I had to remind myself that I’m a student learning (or, rather, relearning) an entire language and that takes time. But as a perfectionist, it’s really hard to sit at a table with my tutor and start to relearn things I knew in elementary school. I want to excel, to run ahead and know everything instantly. I guess it’s a little piece of the brat in me – wanting to get things done WHEN I WANT THEM.

But, I think this is giving me more of an appreciation for the process of learning anything. And, in addition, a sense of awe for anyone who comes out of a situation where they have to relearn basic principals again. Relearning to walk, relearning to talk, relearning to know people, things or places. Stubbornness isn’t even a word that begins to describe what you have to be equipped with.

A reminder came this week, though, while I was reading with the six year old I nanny. He was struggling through the words, sounding out each one painfully and struggling as though he was pulling a heavy weight behind him. He wanted to read about his favorite soccer player Clint Dempsey, so he had insisted that the pages he read for the day were from the internet (instead of usual school level reading books) .

As he went along, he started to realize the task that had been put before him. It took 20 minutes to get through a paragraph. And that was with a lot of assistance, and breaking down words syllable by syllable.

He could have given up. He could have walked away from the table and decided to have books read to him for the rest of his life. But, instead, he pressed on. Grasping for an understanding of each character on the page. Wading through the sentences as though they were a bog trying to suck him down into its muddy ground. But he is a fighter, and he fought his way through each and every sentence. I think I learned a lesson from this sandy haired little six year old.

I learned that it takes practice, it takes determination and patience – but most of all it takes tenacity to continue on through something that seems impossible.

The ability to see things as a promising future, that currently looks like a horrible mess, is not a skill that can be taught, but rather, a piece of each of us that has to be discovered. Each time I go to practice French it breaks my heart to admit that I’m not as proficient as I once was. I have to swallow my pride and ask for help on words and meanings that I used to have mastered.

But every time I sit there struggling, I remember the tenacity of my little six year old, and press on. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about how much struggle there was to make it to the finish line. Only that you made it there.

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No Hablo Español

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Missoula, Montana

It’s a truth universally acknowledged (at least in the Northwestern US) that a student educated in the art of speaking Spanish will be ten million times more likely to use it, than one educated in French.

I made that statistic up.

But, if you are one of the masses of people who chose to take Spanish as your educational language in school, I salute you – I was not.

My entire life I felt pressured to pursue Spanish. In school, I remember there being three Spanish classes filled with students (all with waiting lists) while we – the poor French class students of America – could barely fill two tables in our classroom.

Perhaps I was a hipster even as a ten year old, but I just COULD NOT understand why people wanted to take Spanish. Speaking Spanish felt like denim in comparison to the velour of the words I was used to practicing and perfecting. I obviously don’t share the feelings now, but you have to understand that I was an extremely opinionated and stubborn child.

And, as most people in love, I was hell bent on defending the honor of my darling French language, any time it was brought into question  – which was often. I remember adults telling me it would be better for my future if I took Spanish classes. That it would look “good” on my résumé and that I would be able to better connect with “my culture”…wait, what? Yes, people thought I was Hispanic (I am not in any way, in case you were wondering). But that’s another story for another time.

The one time I actually attempted to try out a Spanish class, I was entirely disappointed. They said “que” and I pronounced it like it was supposed to be pronounced, “Kuh”. They said, “No, no, no, Emilee – QUE.” Yes, I don’t have a hearing problem, I remember thinking. And the second time I over pronounced it the French way, just out of spite.

It’s true, I was a brat of a child. I knew what I liked and was fiercely loyal to it. *Disclaimer: I am, in no way, claiming to have grown out of this.

Now that I’m older, I understand the importance of all languages, but I also understand the importance of sticking with what you’re passionate about. Should I have taken Spanish because it was something that “everyone” would use when they grew up? Maybe.

But, if I took a poll to see how many words my high school friends actually remember from their FOUR YEARS of studying, I’m pretty sure I would have great directions to the bathroom and know the person’s name.

See, while doing what is “practical” might seem like the right thing at the time, sticking with what I love is now proving so much more useful in my life.

I like to think of myself as an advocate of impractical thinking. I highly encourage doing the “impractical thing” in order to stay true to yourself (as corny as that sounds). Because, when it comes down to it, you are ultimately the person who lives with the shapes you are molded into. And you never know when, in your future, you might need a couple nonsensical skills. While French was seemingly impractical when I was growing up, knowing Spanish now, would be of little use to me while living in the countryside of France.

As a result of learning a language I was actually interested in, and wanted to learn, I dug deep into the language and actually LEARNED it. I was able to find my own identity and go down my own path; one that’s leading me to some pretty awesome places now that I’m an adult.

I’ll be the first to say that if there was enough time to learn every language, I would. I’m not devaluing any, Spanish or otherwise, in any way – but I will say that taking it for me would have been a mistake. Not because of what the language was, but because it wasn’t where my heart was.

In a perfect world I think all languages would be available in school systems so kids could really explore and see what stuck out to them. Right now, I live with one roommate who speaks Russian and another learning German, and I can’t help remembering that those languages weren’t even an option growing up. Why?

There’s going to always be a standardized educational system that provides what they believe is “best” for the students they are educating. But my challenge is that dark horses like me are allowed to thrive in an environment that might not be the common choice. Who knows how many linguists we’re missing out on by limiting the options of school languages!

Oh, and for all my Spanglish speaking friends – I adore you. But, don’t think I won’t remind you how “que” should really be pronounced.

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Glasgow, Scotland

Comment Français A Volé Mon Coeur

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Olympic torch, Canada

Picture a little girl. She turned nine years old last week and is simultaneously excited and bored to death with life. She wears her hair in multiple braids every day. She likes to make things and learn about new people, but mostly likes to watch the world around her, as though she is learning the moves to an intricate dance she hopes to perfect.

This little girl is a bit odd. For her 9th birthday she asked her mom to take her to Williamsburg so she could study colonial life in the 18th century. And, on the way there, her family made a stop in a little place called Quebec, Canada. Amidst the unreadable traffic signs and how beautiful all the people speaking sounded, it felt like heaven. The little girl is mesmerized and entranced. She thinks she’s walked into a storybook, and she doesn’t ever want to step out again.

Studies show that what you gravitate toward when you’re 7-9 years old is an early indicator to what you’ll be passionate about in your adult life. You might lose it during middle school, or hide it during high school. But, generally it comes back again and again, as though some kind of haunting presence.

This is what happened to me in third grade. The moment I heard someone speak French for the first time I was hooked. I couldn’t/can’t believe how beautiful it was/is! The language was like verbal painting, and I LOVE painting. The moment I got back to my own hometown I insisted that my mom put me in French lessons. I wanted to know everything. How to speak it, how to read it and how to move to France when I was older. My mom wasn’t on board with the last request, but she enrolled me in classes nonetheless.

French has always been something I’ve poured myself into, but has never seemed like “work” to me. It’s always been there, more or less like a hobby. Something I’ve gone back and forth to all the way through college. I don’t really talk about it. Most people are surprised when they find out I know any French at all. But, having the opportunity to now live in the very heart of what has captured my own, has brought it to the foreground again in my life.

This past week I started French tutoring, so I’ll have a solid foundation for when I actually move. I was going to wait to enroll in classes starting in April at the community college near my house, but decided, after looking at enrollment fees, that private tutoring was actually way cheaper and more one on one instruction. So now, I’ll be going once a week to meet up with my tutor.

One thing that is really surprising me is how much my mind has retained, although I haven’t spoken one word of French for almost five years. I’ll hear a word, or a phrase and think, “Wait…I know that…” It might take me a couple of minutes, or being reminded, but I think it’s all re-sticking pretty quickly. It kind of feels like I’m rediscovering my identity after having amnesia. And I’m not gonna lie – I love it.

That being said, here are

My goals for French: 

– 1 hour per day of practicing

– At least semi-fluent before I even get on the plane in August

– I’d love to be able to Skype with my au pair family while speaking French, instead of speaking English and have the parents translate to the kids

– Join some kind of group to meet other people in Seattle that speak French,

so I can speak with them (April/May)

– Start writing my blog posts in En Français and English so I can practice, but you guys can still read them

– Learn to flirt in French. That’s right – I said it.

A bientôt!

Me and Grandpa
Mini me when I was 9, and my grandpa