Being abroad is an amazing experience so far, but being away from home and speaking a foreign language has its downfalls.
I opened my mailbox this morning to find a note, completely in French, with black Times New Roman font boldly in black on the snow white paper. I looked at it and understood it was bad. “1er Rappel,” it howled at me in bold, then continued with a sentence that had too many le and de words that it seemed like the author repeated himself too much. I understood that I had been late paying my rent, but I didn’t understand what they expected me to do about it. I didn’t know how bad it was, and at this point, I had stayed up too late working through French newspapers and homework, really working hard to familiarize myself with the language, and I took one look at this short note and it seemed like it could have been written in Chinese.
My confidence collapsed. Will I ever be able to add to conversations in French? Am I smart enough to pursue this? Why am I here if my language skills are not getting any better? I have spent the last two weeks in French courses for about five hours a day, Monday through Friday, staying in and up late to tediously work through a French-English dictionary and find all the words and grammar I don’t understand in a two page text that is about something my professor pulled out of an old textbook, only to find that the next day we don’t even talk about the text.
The rest of the day, I couldn’t form sentences. I could understand the professor when she talks, but I can’t communicate in intelligent sentences. Today, at coffee break, (and yes, its mandatory that everyone gets an espresso) we made jokes that there are three kinds of French: European French, Canada French, and Foreigner French.
I am a master of Foreigner French. All of us are–the British, the Iranians, Koreans, Japanese, Bulgarians, we all can form sentences like a first grader, and communicate what we need. The only thing is that all the foreigners can’t understand each other’s accents.”Quoi?” “J’ai. Besoin. d’un. café.” “Ohh!”
I knew that I would feel this way the first semester, and I know that I am not alone in this feeling. This is the most difficult part of living in a foreign country that I have to deal with so far. I compare it to dance–some days my body feels like it can master a triple pirouette, when others my body feels too short, my legs won’t do anything right, and my arms just aren’t long enough. But the bad days are indicators that I am learning, and the same goes for learning a foreign language. Discipline and perseverance are the keys.
I was sailing smoothly, and now I fell into an awkward phase. I just keep telling myself that it’s good–I am learning. It is just very frustrating to know that I have been learning French in school for a very long time, my teachers were all fabulous, but I can’t make good conversation. It is very disheartening when I meet new people because I can’t physically be who I am–I simply can’t make a joke, or explain the politics of my country.
I am here. I will learn. I will speak French one day.