My First Day of French Class

I’m nervous.  It’s my first day of school at the Alliance Francaise.  I’ve read David Sedaris’ book Me Talk Pretty One Day and realize I’m in the same school he was enrolled, while he wrote this book.  The exact location he felt defeated in.  I sat in a class of 13 on our first day of French class. It was a complete immersion, therefore the teacher only spoke French.   

Je m’appelle Tricia.                                My name is Tricia.

         Je suis Americainne.                                 I am American.

         Je parle Anglias et pou Espagnol.            I speak English and a little Spanish.

         Je suis psychologe et auteure.                 I am a psychologist and author.

To say all of these bespoke sentences repeatedly in a group of 13 people from Colombia, America, Cuba, Brazil, Turkey, England, Sri Lanka, Finland, and Mozambique took 3 hours.  Two additional students would join us later, nuns from India and Thailand.  There were a few peers who spoke with confidence, but most spoke with hesitation.  Not only was our teacher trying to have us speak a new language, but she was attempting to show us how to end our sentences with a “period” and not a question mark with the dramatics of movement.  She pointed down to the floor and spoke with a deep voice, as a student said her name.  “It’s not a question, but a statement,” this is what I believe the teacher said in French.  Later she pointed up to the sky and spoke with an inflection, as she encouraged the same student to ask “et vous” to the student next to her, meaning “and you?”  We were learning a new language, but also confidence?  I say this with a question mark, because it’s hard to have confidence, when you are being corrected with every other word you speak.  

These lessons are being taught with each one of us having face masks on.  The teacher took off her mask several time to show us how her tongue hit the back of her teeth for some words and how her mouth reshaped for other words.  We learned one additional thing in those three hours, we learned to pronounce the alphabet.  I know my English alphabet, and even my Spanish, but French?  Most makes sense, but for some letters, my tongue has trouble producing.  The teacher completed drawings of circles with arrows of how our mouths or tongues should be with each letter.  I have yet to totally understand what was said or diagrammed out.

I spoke to several classmates in between sessions.  An American girl moved here two months ago because her wife is French. An English bloke is engaged to a French woman and moved six years ago.  This was also the case for the Cuban man and the Finnish woman.  They are learning the language for their partners, their in-laws, and their new home country.  Et moi?  Why did I move here again?  I began to ask myself this question.   Why was I tormenting myself with a month of classes, 3 days a week, in 3 hour sessions? I didn’t move to this city for a loved one but for the love of a city.  And for this I will temporarily endure the excruciating discomfort of being a fool.  I despise looking like an idiot in front of other people.  As a Type A personality, I hate not knowing the answers.   I was the one to sit in class and raise my hand, not avert my eyes and hide.  

Many people in the class seem to be sacrificing something.  A woman who I believe is a chamber maid in Paris is a dentist in her home country.  A man who usually is a professor is working at a bar.  I’ve given up being a psychologist and now am winging it as an author, with several years of savings funding me.  Sitting in the class encourages me to have compassion for those learning the language in my homeland.  Oftentimes we are too lazy to be with the struggle of pushing ourselves out of the comfort zones of our natives tongues and into the world of new ways to pronounce letters and words.

I’m reminded of several lines from David Sedaris’ book about this experience:

“My only comfort was the knowledge that I was not alone. Huddled in the smoky hallways and making the most of our pathetic French, my fellow students and I engaged in the sort of conversation commonly overheard in refugee camps.

“Sometimes me cry alone at night.”

“That is common for me also, but be more strong, you. Much work, and someday you talk pretty. People stop hate you soon. Maybe tomorrow, okay?”

I know that me talk pretty one day too. 

En francais : moi aussi parle joli un jour

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. John Wolanin
    Jan 04, 2022 @ 20:08:04

    I’m so proud of you for really getting out of your comfort zone . Tackling a new language and a way of life . Tricia , you will never be the same


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