Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Stumble Your Way Into a New Language Today!

Back in July, I made a brief reference to my so-called self-improvement regimen. As I noted at the time, this consists largely of my attempt to re-learn French, which I never spoke well in the first place.

In the years since I first studied française (circa 1999-2001), I have also taken one and a half years of Spanish courses and made an attempt at some German, which turned out to be useless in spite of the fact that I'm fluent in a Germanic language. The reason I keep coming back to French is not as simple as saying that it was the first language I studied other than my own, although that is true to some extent. It's also wrapped up in the fact that English, as a language, was heavily influenced by French thanks to the Norman Invasion of 1066.

Maybe it's even a little bit because I grew up in what was once a French territory (heyyyy, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac). But that last explanation doesn't hold much water. The military enclave that grew into the Motor City, Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, should rightly be pronounced DAY-twa, yet we Michiganders managed to mangle it into Duh-troyt. (This might be a good time to tell you that I hate when people call it DEE-troyt. I am looking in your direction, Chris Sherman.)

My point is this: I have no easily-identifiable motivation for why I'm more inclined toward the study of French. But I'm trying to work with what IS there.

My fluency does not seem to be improving, as evidenced by the fact that I am more or less stuck in the present tense. My methodology is imprecise at best: I use a combination of materials including a used but excellent copy of the level-one French textbook that was employed by my school district when I was going through the system, a text by Barron's called French Now! that totally doesn't suck, and the now-ubiquitous langauge-learning application Duolingo.

Duolingo is great because it allows you to take your lessons along to the doctor's office, your lunch break, what have you. On the other hand, it also tends to produce sentences like this: 

Still, this is better than nothing. While no one forces me to speak French (as I once forced my ESL students to speak English), I have been fairly diligent about studying every day. And I think the fact that I've kept up says something about me, and not just that I spend too much time alone in the house. Rather, it says (to me, at least) that I haven't given up on myself completely, as I have often wanted to do in the past year or so. Plus, it allows me to focus my intellectual energy somewhere in the absence of colleagues and friends who know about and understand my academic pursuits.

Will I ever go to France and put this imperfect knowledge to use? I couldn't say. But at least I'll know my self-improvement plan worked to an extent, and this is one of the first times in my life I can say that.