Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I first fell in love with French when I was learning the phrase, 'Je suis enchantée de faire votre connaissance.'  I had been back at home in Los Angeles for six months from a study abroad in London and had another two months to go until I returned to Provo.  Learning is all that has ever made me particularly happy, and after six months of not being in school, I was reeling with dissatisfaction.  Perhaps sensing my displeasure with life, and aware I'd be taking French in the Fall, my parents gifted me one of those CD-ROM 'Learn a Language' programs for my birthday to get me started.

I worked about four to six hours every day at a Law Office, and when I came home, I'd practice French for hours, lying across my parents bed repeating words and phrases.  I loved it.  My roommate collects stories I tell her of my prayers with God; her favorite is the story of the week I prayed every night for God to help me get the pronunciation of the French 'r' down.  I can still remember the first time I said 'rouge.'

Fairly quickly, I familiarized myself with most of the disks of the program, and swapped them out depending on whether I wanted to learn phrases, 'Au secours!' (Help!) which is another great direct-translation, or vocabulary, 'souris' (mouse).

It was a phrase day when I found, 'Je suis enchantée de faire votre connaissance.'  I had NO idea what this meant.  I knew it was supposed to mean something about being enchanted, and maybe meeting someone, but I hardly understood the sentence syntax or meaning of the individual words.  I looked it up online.  It means "I'm pleased to meet you," but more literally, "I am enchanted to make your knowledge/acquaintance."  I was smitten.  Someone could tell me I was wrong now, and I'd probably agree with them, but at the time this phrase meant something a lot more than "I'm glad to meet you."  It was saying something more like, "I'm enchanted to know you exist."  What a glorious idea.  Because if Descartes is right, and 'Je pense donc je suis,' that means that I am my knowledge.  I'm only as good as my knowledge, and they're pleased they know about it.

French wasn't about learning another language that day, it was about learning a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing people, and a new way of seeing the world.  How could you ever have a bad day with people being pleased to know you exist and other such grandiose phrases?  Granted, I've now been studying French for almost two years and I don't know that I could make the same argument about this phrase, knowing what I know about the meaning of french words.  But it doesn't really matter that my direct translation was a little off, because I believed it, and it carried me through two years of learning a language that more often than not frustrates me, and makes me feel ridiculously incapable and inept.  I hate it.  I mean, I hate it.  I hate the homework, and I hate that I never know how to say what I want quickly enough.  I hate that I can't understand most people speaking the same language I've been studying for two years, and I hate that I understand concepts I can't put into practice.  I hate getting up in front of people and fumbling with the words and the grammar.  I really hate it.

But then--I'll accidentally forget time.  I'll forget the other homework I've got looming over my head, and I'll get stuck in my grammar book, and I'll marvel over this language that makes no sense some days, and all the sense in the world others.  I'll find a book written in french about the history of jazz, and I'll read seven pages of it before I realize I didn't once look up the definition of a word, or wonder what the hell a series of words in a particular order meant.  I'll forget about what needs doing and realize how long its been since I had to get the direct translation for "I'm glad to meet you," and I'm back lying across my parents' bed, pronouncing rouge for the very first time.

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