Again with the French lessons

by DaniGirl on August 24, 2006 · 16 comments

in Uncategorized

So I’m still taking French lessons. Four hours a day, two days a week. I think I’m improving, because the voices in my head speak an endearing Franglais for a couple hours after each class, so that’s got to count for something.

I’ve taken a LOT of French lessons in my life. Took it in school up to grade 10 or so, took lunchtime courses on and off throughout my career, took a semester of eight-hours-per-week lessons, and for the year before I failed my oral exam (twice) earlier this year, took two-hour classes twice a week. (Gah – I look back at all the lessons I’ve taken through the years, and am truly beginning to wonder if this second-language thing isn’t going to be my Waterloo. How many times do you kick a dead horse, anyway?)

Ahem, though, my point was that I’m becoming a connosieur of language schools. Language schools proliferate in Ottawa, where there are juicy government contracts to be had and a surfeit of painfully anglophone public servants who need to learn a second language to survive in their government careers. (At least I’m in good company.) I think this time around I got stuck with one of the more colourful language schools in the city – kind of like the Island for Misfit Language Instructors.

I think I mentioned here that the first teacher I had with this school was a bit of a newbie – in fact, I was her first student. Ever. She’s a lovely girl, and smart, with a journalism degree and a masters in French literature, but she doesn’t quite get that I am no longer interested in the lofty goal of learning French – I just want to learn how to pass my exam. (I pass my exam, I get five years of grace before I have to do all this over again, and more importantly, I lock in the promotion I earned fourteen months ago that is now completely dependent on me passing my exam by the end of October. ) I really like her on a personal level, but she seems a bit intimidated by me and doesn’t correct half the errors I hear myself making. Rather than correct me or redirect me when I get turned around, she simply says “It would be better to say XXX” and launches into beautifully constructed phrases that are both poetic and completely beyond my linguistic capability.

I had to change my schedule around, so I ended up getting a second teacher. I see Anie on Thursdays, and the other teacher on Fridays. The new teacher was absent for our first class two weeks ago, so I got a substitute – Denis the bitter expatriate Belgian. Denis is definitely the most colourful language teacher I ever had, and he’s got some interesting ideas on language acquisition. He describes the various verb tenses as worlds – the indicative is the Earth, the passé is the Moon, and the conditional is Mars. The subjuntive, on the other hand, has something to do with a car with one driver, or a car being pulled by another car and the ‘que’ in a subjunctive phrase is the little trailer hitch. All of this is illustrated with detailed schema, which I dutifully copied., and which I can now make neither heads nor tails.

Quite frankly, Denis’s approach was so unique and deviant from the norm that I actually got a lot out of it. I might have even asked for him to be my permanent teacher, except that in between all the little schema and illustrations, you had to listen to a big rant about how much he hates Belgium and Belgians and how hard it is for him to get a job as an IT professional here in Canada and how desperately he wants his Canadian citizenship and what a waste of his life this teaching thing is.

By the end of the four hours, I had a unique perspective on language acquisition and Belguim – but a massive headache. Oy.

I started with my other half-time professor last week. After the first hour, I was almost in tears because I hadn’t understood more than a dozen words he’d said. Ahmed is from a little country in Africa that I was embarrassed to never have heard of: D’Joubiti. He speaks so quickly that by the time I figure out the first three words in the sentence, he’s a full paragraph ahead of me. When I begged him to slow down, he just smiled and shrugged and told me it was part of the learning process to teach my ears to hurry up. He’s right, of course, but it didn’t stop me from grinding my teeth in annoyance for the next hour of the class. By the end, I had learned to listen a little quicker, and found that I was gazing blankly at him after only every third or fourth phrase instead of constantly, so I’m taking comfort from that.

It’s quite vexing, this whole second language thing, but I’ve become stubbornly determined to master it. What happens when an irressistable force (my determination to pass) acts on an immovable object (my inability to internalize this crap once and for all)? Stay tuned for that, and more dispatches from the Island of Misfit Language Instructors…


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Batman August 24, 2006 at 1:35 pm

I’m still struggling through it too. I had a progress test this week and they finally told me that I had a strong B…not the C I was looking for though. I’ve got about 5 or 6 weeks before the first evaluation with Ottawa. I’m not looking forward to it. My only advice is that you’ve got to keep plugging away at it. I do find that I get better at comprehension when I spend more time with the teachers I can barely understand (the fast talking car salesmen type).
We had one student from last year that kept taking the test week after week. I think they finally gave him his C in recognition of his efforts rather than for his ability. Okay, maybe not.
You’re not alone in the land of frustration. There’s plenty of us in the same boat with you. Keep the faith baby.

2 Batman August 24, 2006 at 1:35 pm

I’m still struggling through it too. I had a progress test this week and they finally told me that I had a strong B…not the C I was looking for though. I’ve got about 5 or 6 weeks before the first evaluation with Ottawa. I’m not looking forward to it. My only advice is that you’ve got to keep plugging away at it. I do find that I get better at comprehension when I spend more time with the teachers I can barely understand (the fast talking car salesmen type).
We had one student from last year that kept taking the test week after week. I think they finally gave him his C in recognition of his efforts rather than for his ability. Okay, maybe not.
You’re not alone in the land of frustration. There’s plenty of us in the same boat with you. Keep the faith baby.

3 Miche August 24, 2006 at 1:43 pm

Go Dani go!

4 Miche August 24, 2006 at 1:43 pm

Go Dani go!

5 nancy August 24, 2006 at 2:18 pm

Oooh la la, ma cherie!
Just bring a Pepsi and a Joe Louis to your class, plop it on your desk and you will just look oh, so Quebecois french. That will certainly help, oui? non?

6 nancy August 24, 2006 at 2:18 pm

Oooh la la, ma cherie!
Just bring a Pepsi and a Joe Louis to your class, plop it on your desk and you will just look oh, so Quebecois french. That will certainly help, oui? non?

7 suze August 24, 2006 at 2:29 pm

i understand your frustration – they’re giving me two two hour sessions a week with an instructor from some of the illustrious language schools in town, and honestly, i’m getting very little out of it. The teacher speaks so quickly and when I miss pronounce a word, he interrupts, and shouts the correct pronounciation at me. Really, not helpful…
I’ve asked about getting a new teacher, but I’ve been told that this is who i get…
good luck with your french 🙂

8 suze August 24, 2006 at 2:29 pm

i understand your frustration – they’re giving me two two hour sessions a week with an instructor from some of the illustrious language schools in town, and honestly, i’m getting very little out of it. The teacher speaks so quickly and when I miss pronounce a word, he interrupts, and shouts the correct pronounciation at me. Really, not helpful…
I’ve asked about getting a new teacher, but I’ve been told that this is who i get…
good luck with your french 🙂

9 JoJo August 24, 2006 at 3:27 pm

You see, that’s why I was a misfit growing up in Montreal, I preferred Coke and a May West.
I am so sorry honey. I tout myself to be a bilingual woman who has lost a lot of her French living in this anglo city.
But the reality is I only understand broken, Québécois slang. Put me in a room with somone who speaks beautiful, poetic and grammatically correct French and I find myself muttering “Oui, je t’un canadien québécois. Un français, canadien français. Un Amercian du nord français. Un francophone québécois canadien. Un québécois d’expression canadienne française, française. On est des canadiens, amércianes, francophone d’amérique du nord.Des franco-Quebecois. On est des franco-Canadiens du Quebec. Des Quebecois, Canadiens. Les deux. C’est ça.”
If you can figure out where that is from then, honey, you are French.

10 JoJo August 24, 2006 at 3:27 pm

You see, that’s why I was a misfit growing up in Montreal, I preferred Coke and a May West.
I am so sorry honey. I tout myself to be a bilingual woman who has lost a lot of her French living in this anglo city.
But the reality is I only understand broken, Québécois slang. Put me in a room with somone who speaks beautiful, poetic and grammatically correct French and I find myself muttering “Oui, je t’un canadien québécois. Un français, canadien français. Un Amercian du nord français. Un francophone québécois canadien. Un québécois d’expression canadienne française, française. On est des canadiens, amércianes, francophone d’amérique du nord.Des franco-Quebecois. On est des franco-Canadiens du Quebec. Des Quebecois, Canadiens. Les deux. C’est ça.”
If you can figure out where that is from then, honey, you are French.

11 BeachMama August 24, 2006 at 4:42 pm

Jo Jo, I don’t know anyone else who loves a Mae West. I was weaned on them as a child… it explains a lot.
Dani, best wishes for you in French class. Hubby starts up again after our holiday. Althouh you have many years of French lessons more than him, he gets just as frustrated. The difference being he won’t admit to almost crying. Will see this semester if he starts to cry or not ;).

12 BeachMama August 24, 2006 at 4:42 pm

Jo Jo, I don’t know anyone else who loves a Mae West. I was weaned on them as a child… it explains a lot.
Dani, best wishes for you in French class. Hubby starts up again after our holiday. Althouh you have many years of French lessons more than him, he gets just as frustrated. The difference being he won’t admit to almost crying. Will see this semester if he starts to cry or not ;).

13 twinmomplusone August 24, 2006 at 8:36 pm

aye aye aye, dani, what an ordeal this whole french thing is, most probably you know way more than me now 😉
funny how you are getting exposed to all these diffenrt kinds of French: Belgian, Djiboutien, Franco-Ontarien, etc, all with their own little quirks
no along with teh Pepsi and the Joe Louis, don’t forget your pack of smokes and you’ll be conversing in “joual” in no time!
Bonne chance ma belle 🙂

14 twinmomplusone August 24, 2006 at 8:36 pm

aye aye aye, dani, what an ordeal this whole french thing is, most probably you know way more than me now 😉
funny how you are getting exposed to all these diffenrt kinds of French: Belgian, Djiboutien, Franco-Ontarien, etc, all with their own little quirks
no along with teh Pepsi and the Joe Louis, don’t forget your pack of smokes and you’ll be conversing in “joual” in no time!
Bonne chance ma belle 🙂

15 Sharon August 25, 2006 at 1:40 am

Good Luck Sweetie after growing up in the province I still can’t speak French they didn’t teach me well.

16 Sharon August 25, 2006 at 1:40 am

Good Luck Sweetie after growing up in the province I still can’t speak French they didn’t teach me well.

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