Did a bit too much navel-gazing here, sorry.
I’ve always been kind of interested in French, though I don’t really know why. My mom’s mom was Québécoise, but I never knew her, and my mom doesn’t speak it, so it was all English for me growing up. I remember going to an after-school French class once when I was 6, getting discouraged, crying on the way home, and never going back. I wish I hadn’t done that! For the next ten years I guess I compensated for not learning another language by being super anal about learning the rules of English (my parents always got a kick out of this and encouraged it, thankfully).
I took two semesters of Spanish in high school, then dropped it when I didn’t like the person teaching the third semester. I wish I hadn’t done that! In high school I also read/became kind of obsessed with Proust and Dumas, which renewed my interest in French. My high school psych teacher once said something dismissive about adult language acquisition, like “If you don’t start learning when you’re 5 then you’ll never be fluent,” which I understood to mean I would never, through any amount of effort, be able to speak a language other than English reasonably well.
I started college in 2014 and began taking French classes my first semester. My experience with Spanish made it easier to pick up than it would have been otherwise. At first I was motivated to study harder by my resentment for what my pyschology teacher had said, but I enjoyed studying it for its own sake too. I kept taking the classes, studied abroad for a semester my senior year, and in 2019-2020 worked as a teaching assistant at a French high school. One year ago today was my last day actually working at that school (originally supposed to work until May).
Right now I have a full-time contract position at a K-8 French immersion school. It’s helping me keep up with the language, but everyone wearing masks all the time* has made me realize just how much I rely on looking at other people’s mouths in order to understand what they’re saying. I’ll start conversations in French and then immediately need to switch to English because the situation is one where information needs to be communicated efficiently and I don’t want to waste the other person’s time by saying WHAT? HUH? COME AGAIN? all the time (which is something I do in English constantly, but for some reason I feel way worse doing it in another language). Lately I’ve been feeling kind of bad/insecure about my French skills slipping, but the feeling will pass. I try to read books/play games/watch movies in French but have been pretty lazy about it lately (pretty lazy about everything for the past year, of course).
*it’s a small enough school that we’re able to observe COVID safety precautions well enough, so we meet in person and of course wear masks
My proficiency in the language varies somewhat significantly between reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I can read and write very well, speak well enough (good accent, but my command of proper grammar goes down the toilet; on more than one occasion, though, I’ve had someone say to me that they didn’t notice my accent at all, which gives me a big head all day), and listen somewhat badly. I don’t think I have a hearing impediment but it’s like if I am not 100% confident about one particular word in a sentence I hear, my thoughts zero-in on that word and how I don’t know what it was and throw the rest of the sentence out the window with it. Sometimes I can listen really well. At the height of my listening comprehension last year I went to an older colleague’s dinner party and listened to her and her friends talk for like four hours about the differences between and significance of tradition/ritual in Abrahamic religions, a subject for which my studies did not necessarily prepare me, vocabulary-wise. I remember watching Tales from Earthsea in French and hearing the sentence “Il me l’a confiée pour que je te la donne” (he entrusted it to me so that I might give it to you), proud of having understood this sentence which actually sounded a lot less clear than how it might seem written down.*
*you know how in English we don’t say “I-AM-GO-ING-TO-THE-STORE,” but sometimes “I’ngoinothe store,” it was like that
I’ve been slowly, inefficiently, noncommittally working my way through a Japanese textbook for I guess almost two years now. I really, really want to throw myself into learning at least that—the plan is to look for courses on offer in the area once in-person learning is safe again. I’d also really like to learn German, and maybe Russian. I keep telling myself “once I learn that I’ll be content,” but I’ll probably never be satisfied.
fridgeboy Do you all think that talent plays a role in language acquisition?
I went to a party once during this period abroad where I dug my heels firmly into the argument that there’s no such thing as natural talent, or else that natural talent plays a much smaller role in developing skills than we commonly believe it does. I don’t actually feel confident taking such a firm stance on this, or at least phrasing it that simply, but at least with regard to language acquisition I’d echo the thoughts others have expressed here and say effort and perseverance are 1000x more important than talent. It’s all about time. Maybe your spouse spent/spends more time thinking about Italian/French/languages than she let/s on. I could’ve spent half an hour reading my Japanese textbook instead of writing this comment! Oh well.
All this is to say if we start a thread about le monde francophone I’ll be there, buckaroo.