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Flipping Switches

  • Blog Post by:
  • November 5, 2011 - 11:36 AM

So oftentimes you hear about people's travel stories. They get to a foreign language, with a foreign country (or the other way around, I dunno how you travel) and they struggle.

Strugs, as we teenagers say. The words feel funny in your mouth, the sounds don't mesh with your ears, and even your nose is feeling a little out of place, despite its lack of active participation in communication.

Then, in this magical story, one day you wake up and you speak the language perfectly. You understand everything, it's like everything clicks and you flip a switch.

Welcome to fluentdom.

This myth, at least for me, has been debunked. I've been dreaming in french since I got here in August, but am still far from understanding everything said around me. My fluency depends on the following equation.

1/2(Number of french songs listened to this morning) + hours of sleep - quantity of english speakers I've chatted with + whether I read the newspaper and listened to a podcast in the last 24 hours = how well I understand you when you ask me why I'm sleeping outside the classroom at 8 am, waiting for uni to start.

I seem to be flipping the switch on and off. For instance, my vocabulary has been deemed extraordinary (hint: say english words with a french accent... works 90% of the time).

A french friend was astonished that I know the word for onomatopoeia (It's onomatopée).  However, my grammar is sadly lacking, despite my efforts towards ameliorating my atrocious sentence structures. So how does one know if one makes progress?

Here are some signs that I've noticed.

-When you ask for something in a store/restaurant/library, you are not questioned what country you come from.

-When there is a joke told in French, you laugh because it is funny, not because you don't understand and feel awkward.

-You can read a newspaper and understand in general every article, save where they use english words incorrectly and misspelled to highlight a recent trend.

-Your imitation of french people is deemed "embarrassingly true."

-You slip in the random slang words but don't overdo it (like you did at the beginning of your stay).

-The best ways to make progress I've found are to find things to attack. One week it'll be subjunctives, the next personal pronouns. The best thing I did for my grammar was to choose the top ten verbs you use everyday and learn them perfectly. Sure, I'll probably mess up very technical language, but at least now I've got a handle on general conversation.

So maybe one day I'll wake up and feel completely french, and go on to speak like a pro. But more likely I'll mess up, make a misunderstood joke and continue my day making small errors. Big picture wise, not small picture wise, I'm doing okay.

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