The first time I tried to learn French was in high school. It was my favorite class, but not because of the subject matter or the teacher but because my best friends were in it with me. We delighted in entertaining ourselves and not in doing the hard work of learning a foreign language, no matter how much I dreamed of traveling to and living in France. Nonetheless I managed to learn enough in high school to coast through the semester of French in college. It was easy, and I got in the habit of not studying.
About half-way through the second semester, with the class now conducted entirely in French, I first realized that I had absolutely no idea what was being said. I could not answer a single one of the questions the teacher directed at me with anything other than “Je ne sais pas!” It was true. I did not know. I did not know anything. And at this point I was lost.
Rather than doubling-down, as I should have done, or hiring a tutor, which would have been another brilliant idea, I simply fumbled my way through the rest of the year, barely seeking out a passing grade, my standard answer for all questions in or about French remaining the same — je ne sais pas, I do not know.
But one thing I do know is that I love France. Walking the cobblestone streets of Paris, spending the day in the Cluny Museum and the next one in the Louvre. Exploring the Dordogne region, from ancient cave drawings to medieval castles to the gorgeous wines produced there. Soaking in the depiction of life in 1066 through inspecting the Bayeux Tapestry, or walking the beaches of D-Day in Normandy. I love it all.
So, after ignoring the golden opportunities of my high school and college classes, I decided in my 40s to try again, this time with Rosetta Stone. Then, in my 50s, with the podcast “Coffee Break French,” and, at 58, through my local university’s extension courses . Again, in frustration, I gave up. But I have re-started my efforts yet again. Now, at 60, I listen each day for 30 minutes to Pimsleur and I diligently add on teaching myself from “French: Learn in 4 Simple Steps” to get the grammar right as well. It is so hard! I am determined to finally get this right. To one day be smart enough to understand the question being asked of me in French, and brave enough to risk ridicule for mispronouncing the words to answer with something other than Je ne sais pas. I will know. I do know. Je sais…allons-Y!