Back to French Class: The Zen Approach

It’s no secret to my readers that learning French has turned out to be a bigger challenge than I thought. I started out so gung-ho only to find that the stresses of acclimatizing to my new life abroad were making it impossible for me to focus on language-learning. What I thought would be my number one priority became the last thing on my mind! Eventually, it became a downright aversion.

I let myself off the hook. I stopped trying to force it, and that was the right decision for me. But now, I sense a complacency encroaching, and I don’t want to be one of those people who lives here for 12 years and still can’t speak a lick of French (due to apathy rather than a cognitive challenge).

I’ve had three important points working against me:

  1. My husband doesn’t speak French, so there’s no practice at home.
  2. All of my friendships and/or business relationships are with native English-speakers or French who speak English, so there’s no practice there either.
  3. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and tend to be ultra hard on myself.

The truth is, one CAN indeed get away with not learning the language and still live here. It makes the world a bit small, but it can be done. There are consequences, for example needing help with critical communications and living with an undercurrent of fear of crisis, but it is possible. Since I don’t like the idea of living in such a small world and don’t much care for the consequences of not speaking the language, I’ve decided to try, try again. So, I’ve headed back to school to my neighborhood French classes!

Having been through, oh, six or so teachers, I’ve returned to the one I started with here. I seemed to learn the most from him. Whether that is because I was more motivated when I began there or whether he’s just a damned good teacher, I don’t know. What I do know is that not all teachers are created equal, just as all students learn differently. There needs to be a good match in style between teacher and student for anything to click.

I’m in a group of welcoming intermediate speakers. The class is given almost entirely in French. I only understand about 50% of it, but I don’t mind that so much. Mostly, I just want to expose myself to new vocabulary and a new insight here and there. I want to have opportunities to enjoy the language again rather than be intimidated by it.

I’ve noticed a change in my attitude for the better. I barely took notes at our first meeting today. I’ve realized that writing things down doesn’t really mean I’m going to remember. In fact, ironically, today one of the first things the instructor taught was something I had written on the very first page of my journal last time I was in his class…over a year ago! How’s that for progress?  LOL

The point is that I’m determined not to make “French class” a stress. This is a major shift that I want to cultivate and maintain. Maybe it took me a year and a half to work through being okay with not knowing. I’ve said “je ne comprends pas” and “je ne sais pas” and the dreaded “je ne parles pas Francais” more in the last year and a half than I’ve ever done in English in all the other years of my life combined! All that reaffirming of what I “can’t” do can’t possibly be good for one’s ego day in and day out!

It does, however, make it essential to drop one’s ego, come out of hiding, and stand proudly ignorant before the masses. So today, I sat there and let the words flow over me. Some I knew. Some I didn’t recognize. If my mind flew out the window to think of other things, I let it. If I made a mistake, I did my best not to care. If I had no idea what someone was talking about, I let it roll off my back rather than sitting there pretending I got it. My instructor said, “Ask questions.” And I intend to…but only if I really think it’s important. I don’t need to understand everything. Isn’t that wonderful?! I hope that if I have a day where my mind is overloaded and not functioning all that well, I can still uphold a “who cares” attitude. It certainly feels better!

I guess I’ve discovered the zen approach to language-learning:

Show up. Make it enjoyable. Forget the rest.