Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Language of Learning

Thirty weeks of French training took me on an unusual path of self-discovery. Well, perhaps not so deep as all that, but it did make me recognize a few things about myself, good and bad.

Let me start with a whoop of absolute joy-relief-excitement-pride: I have passed my French language test with the score required, a 3/3 (on a scale of 1-5 where most native English speakers are between 4 and 5). The test was comprised of a conversation about my personal and professional life, a five-minute presentation on a random subject, and an interview where I asked the tester about life in his native country. There was also a reading portion of the test, where I read several short articles in six minutes and summarized them, then two longer articles with more substance.

This score means that in both speaking and reading skills, I can use and understand French at a more than basic and less than terribly proficient manner. Subjects like global warming, leadership, the migrant crisis, past and present and future ideas or events, and political opinions, are accessible to me in French. I can speak to a native without them being too confused as to what I'm trying to say, although they may have to overlook or interpret some grammar and vocabulary errors.

From knowing only such Anglicized words as rendezvous and deja vu, I can now read the news and discuss it in French with a native speaker. I may not read all the subtext in a written work, nor speak perfectly fluent and correct French, but in the end, I can communicate.

That's pretty darned cool!

My language teachers were from Senegal and Morocco, Benin and France, Cote d'Ivoire and both of the Congo's. I had tutors and counselors. And for the first time, I spent most waking moments of a considerable amount of time (seven months!) studying a single subject: the French language. It was incredibly hard, fulfilling, and enlightening.

I discovered that I can indeed succeed even when it feels like each day, I'm failing. I learned to listen to the advice of teachers and counselors which went against everything I thought I knew about myself. For example, at one point I was told to stop studying, that it was inhibiting my progress. It took me quite awhile to accept and follow this advice, but once I did, I was able to improve!

I also found out that I have, sometimes, a severe and critical self doubt, and a really ugly inner voice that, when allowed to speak, makes me shrink in self-disgust and contempt. It's hard to battle this voice and to tell myself it's wrong. I see it in my eyes sometimes.

These are all traits I would like to explore and try to understand, improve, change. I do not want to be controlled by that nasty jerk inside me, not ever, not even on bad days. Instead, I prefer the other inner whisper, that the difficult is surmountable and that I have it within me to succeed, through my own hard work and through the acceptance of help from others.

My parents have shared all my ups and downs throughout this crazy adventure of language learning, as they always do, and their persistent and positive support  has been crucial to my success.

The next step: three months of security, leadership, and job-specific training. And then, at the very end of the year, a move across the ocean and into a new (to me) world: Africa!

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