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How I know I’m terrible at French:

1) My contribution to mandatory weekly French-only meals usually consists of nodding, smiling, and “je m’appelle Brie”, which is a pretty weird nickname in French-speaking contexts.

2) I regularly have to freetranslation.com the homework instructions.

3) I got a G on my French midterm.  No, really, a G.  Apparently the French are way more specific in telling you you’re a failure.

When deciding where to transfer it was a difficult toss-up between CMC and Berkeley and a major downer for CMC were the extensive general education requirements.  At Berkeley, there were no language requirements and “physical anthropology” counted as a science.  My “dance appreciation” class could have fulfilled pretty much anything.  But Berkeley has fewer sunny days, less campus camaraderie, no John Faranda, and in the end I had to follow my heart. Plus it’s much easier to feel superior to Republicans than to hippies.

So, that darned language requirement.  I’ve struggled with foreign languages since I took two years of German in secondary school (ich liebe deine brustigas?!) but I’ve never let a challenge stop me, and I’m not about to start now.  And here I am, struggling my way through my third semester of French.

Learning a foreign language has always seemed inherently mathematical to me:

de + le = du
à + quelle = auqelle
If there is no direct object or the direct object appears after the past participle, then the past participle does not agree.
If there is a direct object and it appears before the past participle, then the participle does agree.

I’m not a math major for a reason. My mind doesn’t work in that beautiful, logical streamlined way.  I took the equivalent of American high school math in my second year of college, and still barely passed.  And that was at community college. In a special slow-learning class. The kid next to me once just sneezed on his exam, handed it in, and got a 92. I got a 78.

So puncturing my politics and philosophy classes where I get to talk way too much and sound really British are these one-hour French classes, where I stumble on even basic grammar and feel like an idiot.  It’s really disheartening, and I probably would’ve given up a long time ago if Liz Morgan wasn’t on my back like a power-suit-wearing slave driver (one that I adore, of course).

But last week, a magical thing happened. I was flicking through old notebooks and found notes from one of my first French classes. They were covered in scribbles and edits, and I had obviously been really struggling with some of the most basic concepts, like sentence structure.

This is something that I don’t even consciously think about now. So, in the following day’s French class, I tried to focus instead on being impressed and pleased with how far I’d come.  Non, desolee Madame Rolland, I don’t know any of the words in today’s activity, mais oui! I understand the verb tenses you’re using, and the profanities, and the repeated use of the word “failure”! And oui, oui! I understand your general sentence construct, and that the upward inflection in your voice means you’re speaking angrily! Ahh, progress.

Credit: toothpastefordinner.com

I never would have reached this point if CMC hadn’t forced me to stick with French (or a language in general) for my general education requirement.  In fact, there are lots of things I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for the GE classes I had previously protested.  For instance, when people from my island first migrated here, they were pretty shitty to the native populations.  Mark Twain was a boss. Beowulf was not.  I might not really be here, or I might be the only human, and the rest of you might be robotic humanoids pretending to be humans, reacting to me in ways I’d expect based on my own behaviors. (Philosophy 137: Skepticism FTW).

Ultimately I wouldn’t know any of these things if CMC hadn’t forced me out of my comfort zone and into a fairly wide array of GE classes.  When you first arrive at CMC and look at your future course schedule, GEs seem daunting and frustrating; when you’re preparing to graduate and see GEs peppering your transcript amongst “the classes you actually want to take grrr,” they might seem like an annoying waste of time.  But, at least for me, GEs have truly augmented my education. Besides,  successfully finishing something that was loathed in the first place provides an odd and surprising sense of accomplishment.

So merci beaucoup, CMC. I might not j’adore my French classes right now, but in eight months’ time when I’m on the banks of the Riviera ordering “one small glass of where is the library, please” and making eloquent small-talk with cute French boys about books I was forced to read in my Lit 10 class, I’ll have you to thank.

Bises!

  • Gossip Girl

    I really liked this! You really do a great job expressing concepts/experiences we all relate to. Too early to cast our vote for you as 2010/2011 Best Newcomer to the Forum? I think not!
    P.S. Great title!

  • Deuces

    I couldn’t agree more with Gossip Girl…We can all relate to fearing or dreading Gen Ed requirements and then feeling a surprising sense of accomplishment once having survived…even if that Gen Ed is just a basic Lit or Econ class. Also, excellent reasoning in choosing CMC over Berks. It really is hard to feel a sense of superiority over intellectual granolies.