Monday, October 23, 2017

C'est très difficile

Sometimes I am an asshole.

I must admit, there have been times in my life when I have looked at people who speak English as an additional language and thought that I would do better if I were in their shoes.  I've imagined myself living in another country and easily learning the language by immersing myself fully in it - talking to other people, reading newspapers, watching television, listening to music.  And most importantly, completely avoiding any sort of communication in English.

Sometimes I am an asshole.

I've been in Quebec City for three days now, and for the first time I am beginning to really appreciate how difficult it is to learn another language.  Sure, I've traveled outside of Canada before, and I've amused myself by learning to say "hello" and "goodbye" and "I would like a reservation for two people" in other languages, but this is the first time I've ever tried to become fluent in another language.  And despite having a reasonable baseline knowledge of French, I am finding it a huge struggle.  I hate that it takes me five times as long to read a sign in French than in English, and that even then I am only able to get the gist of what it says.  I feel horrified every time I ask a question in my well-rehearsed but halting French and then cannot understand the response.

My French classes are fully immersive, meaning that we can get in trouble for speaking in English anywhere on campus, and suddenly I feel cut off from the world.  During conversational practice today, I had no idea what my classmate was saying, and I felt panicked at being unable to understand her or to make myself understood.  The environment is very supportive, and my teacher did his best to not make me feel like an idiot, but it still feels terribly uncomfortable.

When I returned from my five hours of class at the end of the day, all I wanted was to speak and read in English.  I opened my computer and was immediately relieved by how easy it was to read blogs and Facebook in my own language.  The comfort of familiarity!

So yes.  Sometimes I am an asshole.  And I apologize to any non-native English speaker whom I have ever passed judgement on.

You are amazing.


  1. You really passed judgement on people for not being better at English? I find that hard to believe. It just doesn't fit with what I know about you from this blog.

    1. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt!

      I think my response is similar to a non-parent watching a parent and thinking “I would never let my child make so much noise/throw a tantrum/eat junk food”. I have definitely been arrogant when watching people try to learn English, and I have thought that I would be so much better at learning another language. But I’ve been humbled by this experience. It’s much more difficult than it looks!