Today’s title refers to Eddie Izzard in his show Dressed to Kill (Salty Language Alert!) about how the first phrases in a high school French textbook aren’t always the easiest to slip into conversation. Much like Eddie Izzard, today I actually started practicing my French like I meant to yesterday. Even though the majority of the classes at the Diplomatic Academy are in English, you are required to know (or at least be working on) French, as well as knowing German, for obvious reasons. Now, I took French for three years in high school, including AP.
Don’t look so impressed. Due to a lack of interest, my class was scheduled at the same time as French 3 and 4, so the AP class (consisting of myself and my friend Juan) actually took place in the book closet that linked the French and Spanish classrooms. It was small, poorly-lit, and smelled kind of funny, but it was pretty fabulous. Aside from occasionally sending the lower-level students to our Inner Sanctum for tutoring in the mysteries of the subjunctive, we generally got left alone to make progress in our textbook as we saw fit. Now, we did have to do some work, or else M. Silkworth would have gotten suspicious, but it was also a great opportunity to do homework for other classes, or talk about Juan’s childhood in Guadalajara, or play card games.
The end result of this admittedly lackadaisical approach to my studies meant that while I somehow tested into Intermediate French at Wake, I decided against taking it, lest the depths of my ignorance be exposed. In the past four years, the only time I’ve actually had to use my French was during a three-day trip to Paris during my semester abroad, when the quite sniffy woman manning the Métro counter at Orly insisted that she spoke neither English nor German, only “Franҫais!” in that chipper, passive-aggressive sort of way that makes you want to slap someone.
So now I’m here, trying to make sure I know enough French to (possibly) take a class in the language. It’s times like this that I’m grateful that Austrian university classes tend to be a lot more lecture-based; it means I can focus more on my listening and reading comprehension. Right now, I’m using Duolingo to brush up on my basic vocabulary; it’s French section is still in beta mode, and the translations they use are a little clunky, but it provides enough instant gratification that I keep going. Also, I’m going to start my reading practice with Le Monde and the BBC (who have online language programs, as well as a service for Francophone Africa). Hopefully, by the end of the month I’ll be qualified to start reading this, a 31-page treatise on theories of international relations. The DA has it on their list of recommended reading for the entrance exam, so it’s a pretty important part of The List for me.
Do any of you have stories about trying to learn a language?