My boyfriend is French. Let’s call him French Fries from here on in, because he’s French. And thin. We actually met through a friend and got to know each other because I had recently been to Paris and fallen in love with it and decided I wanted to learn French. But of course. Three lessons in and I’d learnt precisely zero French so FF dumped me as his student and I moved to girlfriend status.
Now, you’d think that having my own personal, part-time French tutor (not to mention his family who live here and whom I see fairly often) would facilitate me picking up the language quite easily, wouldn’t you? Mais non*! Largely because FF’s English is so good (and his accent is pretty cute), it’s made me lazy with it. I really really really did want to learn French, I really honestly truly did, and still do, but something’s holding me back. I think I’ve worked out that it’s fear – fear of hard work and failure.
I was a pretty good student at school and managed to get through Uni with ‘good enough’ marks get into Honours and from there into a PhD. I’m a complete nerd-face though. I studied as much for the love of it as for career advancement. As I’ve gotten older though, it’s become waaay harder to learn anything new. Doesn’t matter what it is – having to master any new set of skills, and apply myself to learning them, is daunting, and if I don’t pick it up quickly, I give up. That’s not ‘historically’ me. Or maybe it is. Maybe if school hadn’t come ‘easily’ to me, I’d not have persevered with it? Something to think about.
But I digress. The point is I’m pretty impatient with myself these days, and easily frustrated. For example during our short-lived student/teacher relationship, FF would say something in French, I’d repeat it, flawlessly, and he would cock his head on the side and squint a little and say “almost. It’s more like (insert here an exact imitation of whatever French word it was that I’d just said) at which point I’d have a dummy spit because that was what I just said and we’d have to move on. I’d get all paranoid and frustrated and embarrassed, too embarrassed to – heaven forbid – practice in front of him or any of his family so I would retreat to the safety of cultural dominance and expect every conversation thereafter to be conducted in English.
Why is adult learning such a scary concept? Or is it just me? I’ve heard other people say that languages, in particular, are more difficult to learn the older you get. There are some French words or phrases that I physically cannot work out how to twist my tongue around. The road ahead from conjugating to conversation seems impossibly long. I do have a good textbook that I’ve cracked the spine on, and have downloaded various audio files to practice pronunciation, but they speak too bloody quickly for me and I get even more annoyed.
I suspect that although we never stop learning we generally leave the sit-down-in-a-classroom-and-study type learning far behind. That’s my comfort zone, this independent and unstructured learning, ‘just for the sake of it’ isn’t. Even when I did a PhD, there was still some structure to it – a goal, an expected time frame, a ‘known’ output. One of the advantages of getting older is you get more introspective, and insight (so the theory goes) is a little easier to find. So possibly I need to do some investigating into how I learn to get past this mental blockage. Am I visual learner? Auditory? Kinesthetic? I’ve got a distant memory of some sort of work training where I sat right on the border between visual and auditory. Not sure how helpful this is but it’s something to think about for when I do get off my arse and sort this French-learning business out.
I’ve been saying to FF for ages that I should enrol in a class so I can combine the classroom type learning, the structure and discipline it offers, with plenty of verbal practice. So I’m going to do it. I am, I am, I am, I am, I am. Watch this space. (I’m also thinking about doing an MBA but that’s a blog post for another time…)
*Mais Non is an expression that translates most literally to “But, no!” when disagreeing with something someone says. I don’t think it’s meant in a harsh way, or at least that’s not how FF uses it.
Me: I’m a whale. I should be harpooned. Bet you don’t want to draw me like one of your French girls.
FF: Mais, non!
Me: I’ll never learn French. It’s too scary. I’m going to be monolingual for the rest of my life.
FF: Mais, non! (Then he’ll give me a gentle reminder that I need to actually pick up my text book and do the occasional lesson if I’m actually going to get anywhere with it).