Last night, I attended my very first soiree that my native French-speaking friend and teacher MayaJoelle held at her house. It was an evening of French and a potluck followed by a French movie. It was a well-timed opportunity for me to experience immersion before I really experience immersion. What it showed me is that my dabbling with French since May and mere three lessons with MayaJoelle in the past few weeks have actually been effective. I’m learning to converse!
Granted, I understood about 15% of what was going on around me and probably spoke even less, but I was able to interact, nonetheless. I am proud of myself, but also painfully aware of how much there is yet to learn. It makes me feel like a child. Fortunately, I was in a room full of encouraging adults not overly amused with my slow, stilted, and sometimes grammatically incorrect attempts to speak. I actually constructed some decent sentences and listened for familiar phrases here and there, gathering meaning from gesture, facial expression, and context.
The mind really is an incredible tool, hell-bent on understanding. At one point, I had a rather one-sided conversation about French immigration with someone, and though I didn’t really know what he was saying, whether he was telling me about what I’d be facing or what he was facing, my mind had decided to interpret his words and make meaning from them. I may never know whether my assumption that he was speaking of his own experience was correct.
I was thinking in the car on the ride home in a sort of Anglench…or is it Franglish? It made me think of some of those Bollywood films where the actors will suddenly throw in an English phrase mid-sentence. I even caught myself thinking, “Je ne sais pas”…as if that was the only way to say, “I don’t know.” Maybe that’s the approach I need to take. In order to get as much practice as I can with what I know, perhaps I should be using as much French as I can in every sentence I speak, using the English when I don’t know the French equivalent.
Another thing I noticed was this weird reflex to throw in Spanish or Italian. I think I said, “Gracie” about three times. After listening to one man share a brief story, I almost blurted out, “Il parles muy bein francais!” Fortunately, someone else spoke first. The fact that I’m going on a spiritual journey to Mexico in a couple of weeks is NOT going to help matters! Of course, there, I’ll probably be speaking some kind of Spananglich. Frenishlench?