Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Born Again French

After my French lesson on Saturday my tutor, Ann, gave me a little lecture about practicing.

"You need to go over your verbs." she said. She then brought out a little address book. The address book had English words with French definitions filling its pages. They were alphabetized in the book in the same manner you would use it for address'. On pages B instead of Bowland and Bales there was banana and beach towel.

"You should get one of these. I've found it very helpful with my English vocabulary." She then asked me if I had any friends that I could speak French with. Upon admitting that, no, I tended to hang out with English speakers Ann told me to start speaking with Amy.

"You've been here five months and hardly speak a word of French," she lectured. Before I could counter that I had really only been here four months and that the first one didn't count as I wasn't taking lessons she expressing her worry over me wasting my time and money on lessons. We agreed to meet on Monday and I promised to do better.

I mentioned Ann's lecture in casual conversation on the phone to my mother.

"Mathew," she said, "you know why you aren't doing well? You aren't studying are you? Are you paying for these lessons?"

Upon hearing that yes, I was in fact paying for them she increased her lecture into a feverish pitch. My mother is a world class nagger and here she was in top form. She urged me to start hitting the books. She added a stern voice while telling me that I was wasting my money if I wasn't practicing the language with Amy. She swore she would have no son if I didn't get things together.

It worked. Amy and I spent an hour the next evening speaking in French. She picked an old LaRedoute catalog and chose interesting pages to talk about. At first she would describe what the models were wearing and ask me to repeat the French words for "skirt, boots, and jacket." Then she would quiz me on the different colors being worn or where the models were located. Soon I was making up little stories to go with the picture.

"That girl is from Lawrence, KS," I'd say, "she came to Paris on a two week vacation. After three days her luggage was stolen and she couldn't afford to stay in the hotel. After 7 days she had to start prostituting herself to live."*

I was remembering word I didn't know I had ever learned. Suddenly I could conjugate the verb "to steal" in the third person past form. The problem with my tutoring sessions is that we are continually learning new and more difficult language use. We rarely review in class and I am supposed to remember at will any past lesson. My mind gets so tied up in unscrambling the new information that it is too scared to remember anything older than a few minutes. But now in a casual setting with nothing new keeping me occupied I was remembering three months worth of verbs, nouns and prepositions. I was far from perfect, and I had a very limited vocabulary but it was enlightening to suddenly be able to make a complete sentence and better yet, have it understood.

Amy and I have been speaking everyday since and I have started using an address book for new vocabulary and grammar. "How is your sandwich?" I'll ask over lunch. "I like the cheese." And Amy, with an encouraging smile will say, "Tres bien."

* In actuality this conversation went more like this: "She is American. She go to Paris. She no have bags and money. She is prostitute."

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