- It’s seventh grade and we have the option of taking Spanish or French as an elective. I take Spanish, like my older brother and sister do. (Plus it’s more useful anyway. What good is French?, I think.)
- One day in high school a social studies teacher makes fun of the French in class, saying they’re lazy.
- From time to time my friend group will poke fun at our friends who take French, but looking back I can see it was my environment which created that attitude.
- My roommate in Madrid says I should watch the movie “Amélie” with him, and I do (with Spanish subtitles). It makes me incredibly happy—what a movie! This is perhaps the first French film I see. Later in the year we also watch “La Vie en Rose” and “La Grande Vadrouille,” my very first glimpses into French culture.
- March – I spend 10 days in Morocco with friends over my spring break (while studying in Madrid). I quickly learn that it’s French or Arabic which would be useful to know here. Two of the friends I’m with know a bit of French, so they help us out ordering at restaurants and in the train station. I learn “l’addition s’il vous plaît” (the bill, please) during a lunch, but I’m too shy to try it out when we get the waiter’s attention. Throughout the trip the idea of learning French is planted as a seed inside of me.
- Fall 2010 – My senior year at UW-Madison I sign up for French 101 and go on to take French 102 in the spring semester. I have excellent TAs in both classes and really enjoy the challenge of starting back at the beginning, now that my Spanish is fluent after a year in Spain (and eight years of classes).
- I learn that there’s a weekly French conversation table at a café in Madison, but for the fall semester I’m too nervous to go. Then, one cold winter day out of the blue I muster up the courage to attend, make the 20-minute walk in the snow, only to find there’s no French group there. Later I learn there are three of these cafés in the city, and I’d gone to the wrong one.
- It takes more time for me to build up the courage to go again, but I finally attend my first French conversation table—when I can hardly say much beyond “Hello, my name is Rebecca. I study Spanish. I lived in Spain,” you get the picture. But if there’s anything I learned from my time in Spain, it’s that the sooner you use the language in a real setting (and make lots of errors), the sooner it’ll come out how you want it to. If I understand even a single French word while someone else is talking, it’s a success! I hardly know what’s going on.
- At some point I add to my life list this line: “Live in France for over half a year.” I actually want to spend at least a year there, but the thought seems so outrageous and far-fetched. I’ve never been to France before. I don’t speak French! How will I ever be able to live there?
- I move back to Madrid that fall and get a local library card. I find there are some books for French learners with audio CDs, so I check out a few during the year and work through them.
- In May I get an email from Duolingo inviting me to join their private beta group (I must have signed up for a wait list or something after learning of them). I start using it daily for French.
- Later that month I go to Barcelona for a 3-day weekend, my first time traveling solo. One of the many highlights was all of the French my ears got to hear from all of the French tourists. Happy ears! I so enjoyed being around it.
- In August I get to go on a 2-week road trip to France with my old roommate, the one who had me watch all those French films in 2009-10. He’s Spanish, but grew up in Paris. We spend a week driving north, stopping to visit several of the Chateaux de la Loire along the way, then finish with a week in Paris, staying at his friends’ apartment.
- While in Paris my limited French is put to the test. Every morning we get croissants and pains au chocolate from the boulangerie to bring back for breakfast, but we take turns going out to get them. I’m a bit nervous going alone, yet I still go, but every single time—without fail—the person at the counter does not understand what I want on the first go. I have to point and hold up fingers while repeating myself to clarify. I order the same thing each morning and only needed to know one phrase, but each time at different places they don’t know what I was saying. This is a little frustrating, but it doesn’t turn me off to the language. Iwish I could understand what everyone is saying around me, and be able to communicate back just as swiftly.
- A highlight of this trip is having a beer in the exact bar where Amélie worked in the film. While I’m in the restroom, my friend chats with the waiter and gets him to conspire to pull a trick on me. Apparently there are “Hiring” signs in the window, so once I was back the waiter came over and asked me a few questions to see if I wanted to work there. I was able to answer the first two in French, but then didn’t understand the next one.
- In the fall I move back to Madison and end up living near the capitol square, very close to those weekly French conversation tables. I go most weeks.
- My friend Max visits from Germany (who I met while living with Spain) and sees that I’d checked out the first Harry Potter in French from the library. I’d been going through very slowly, just two pages in, looking up words and trying to make sense of it. Max had studied in Paris and makes me read aloud to him! No, just read it to me, I say—because my pronunciation is terrible and I don’t know how I’m supposed to say most words. But he sits next to me on the couch and patiently has me read a few paragraphs aloud, correcting me only when it’s really necessary. When his visit is over I don’t make it very far—maybe just a few more pages—before returning the book back to the library.
- I continue going to French conversation table on most Monday evenings until I move to South Korea in the fall.
- I make a good-hearted attempt at learning Korean, but by winter I decide this energy would be better spent on learning something I feel much more strongly about: French.
- On April 15, Alan Park sends me an email inviting me to be a Beta tester of his language-learning site FluentU. (He found me via one of my blogs—Rebe With a Clause or Oh No She Madridn’t.) I get started using FluentU to continue learning French. (Related note: It’s two months later when I see a Craigslist ad from FluentU looking for people to blog about learning Spanish. I apply, write, and soon after get invited to come on board as blog editor.)
- After dabbling for five years in French, off and on, forgetting what I had known during those first two semesters, I make a new year’s resolution that this will be the year I finally learn French. For real.
- Because French is my focus and I’m now working virtually for a language-learning company, I decide to use some of my savings earned in Korea to pay for classes somewhere in France. I randomly pick Montpellier—because a school there, the Institute Linguistique de Peyrou, is cheaper than in other cities—and sign up for a 6-week intensive course that spring.
- From May to June I’m living in Montpellier, happily soaking up the language and noticing improvements from week to week. I cut out all English—except for 20 hours of work each week—and sign up for Netflix to stream shows and movies in French with French subtitles. I get hooked on “Un village française” and “Fais pas ci fais pas ça.” I read my first book in French: “James et la grosse pêche” (James and the Giant Peach)!
- I pay to go to multiple language exchanges each week, and track my French speaking/reading/listening/grammar with color in my weekly planner.
- During the final two weeks of my time in Montpellier, a friend I’d met at a language exchange becomes more than a friend, and it’s decided I’ll apply for a year-long visa when I return to the states in order to come back to France and live together.
- While in Wisconsin, I drive into Madison on Monday evenings for that same French conversation table. At last, I can understand what everyone’s saying and communicate back!
- I buy a French grammar workbook from the bookstore after arriving, and work on it every week, tracking my progress. I also purchase and read my first full novel, “Bonjour tristesse.”
- Damien and I speak together in French, so I get language practice in all everyday events: buying croissants at the boulangerie, watching TV, hanging out with his friends or family, etc.
- I continue making monthly French study plans in my notebook.
- At the start of March I break up with Damien and move out. Still wanting to live in France, I move by myself to Montpellier.
- I buy a few issues of “Psychologie Positive” from the newsstand to read more in French.
- In the summer I start reading the first Harry Potter (in French), because my roommate (a school teacher) has the whole series. I’m pleasantly surprised that reading it is so fun! I’m completely absorbed in the story, as I’ve forgotten details since I first read the series in English over a decade ago. It’s an incredible feeling, especially remembering how I’d felt in 2013 when I’d first tried to read the book.
- I make my way through the first five books before my visa expires, and get the sixth from my local library once I’m back in the states in October.
- I order Flow Magazine and get a few of the French versions as well.
- I continue watching “The Voice” (French), and “Le Meilleur Patisserie” when I can.
- In April I visit Montpellier for a bit over a week—watching as much French “Super Nanny” as I can squeeze in. (It’s blocked in the states.)
- In the spring I check out the seventh Harry Potter (in French) and finish the series. If you’d told me years ago that I’d do this (without a dictionary) and enjoy every minute, I’d have been surprised.
- After almost two years in the states, I visit Damien for six weeks at his current residence in Pornic, France. The ramped up frequency of speaking in French definitely helps me scrape off some of that rust build-up. I buy and start reading several bande dessinée books—such as Emma’s books, as well as Neon magazine. We watch three seasons of the show Dix Pour Cent on Netflix.
And the journey continues…