Ah, oui?

Enough. Enough. Enough. I have been way too hard on myself for not speaking French lately to my 21 month old, questioning whether to use my slowly evaporating French, or my newly stronger Spanish, and in the meantime, he is only getting English.

I just started speaking French again. Just like that. Right after putting away the dishes after dinner. I switched to French and I certainly got his attention. He laughed and laughed and laughed until he was turning red in the face. He brought me a French book not long after that, so he must know the difference even if I am not using it that much lately. He continued laughing throughout, and when I would mention the “petite souris” he would say “no, (giggle giggle giggle) MOUSE!!” My husband (non-French speaking) understood much of what I was saying and enjoyed expanding his own vocabulary as I taught them the exclamation dégueulasse when my son put his shoe in his mouth. At bedtime, I read him a French book as I typically do, but this time, he sat up, watched ME rather than the book and smiled as I read.

This is a reminder to keep it fun. I tend to worry so much about everything, and rather than worrying about too much, too little, not native, etc. I need to just share my love for language. He seems to enjoy it too.

My Spanish is taking a hit this summer as I am not enrolled in any Spanish courses, and I am not currently reading anything in Spanish or speaking it with anyone. I hope I can jump right on in this August when my classes start and I have Latin American Literature and Spanish Grammar through Literature. Perhaps I need to jump back into Spanish as well. Just like that. Right after putting my kid to sleep.

Use it or lose it (the motivation)!

I’m currently in Philadelphia for a language conference for work, and more specifically, I am sitting in a restaurant alone missing my husband and baby.

My distraction is to think about the past few days. Two days ago, I interviewed a local woman who is originally from Colombia for my Spanish class. She showed up 30 minutes early, and my language partner for the interview was on time. I held a conversation completely in Spanish for over an hour, and it felt fairly natural. It was exhilarating to use that much Spanish with someone other than one of my professors. I also learned a lot about Colombia. Yes, there is more than drug cartels there!

Just this afternoon, as I was walking though the world’s largest convention center searching for the conference check-in, I started walking next to a woman who is a local French teacher from Canada originally. We spoke for about 20 minutes, and I was so embarrassed because I was doing alright, but kept saying “si,” instead of “oui.”

I explained I am studying Spanish and she said her husband is Spanish and that they always end up speaking a combination of French and Spanish at home because the two are so close and they both speak both languages.

We said “Bonne Journée,” when she found her meeting room, and then I asked someone else for directions. The older gentleman did not speak great English, so I asked him if he spoke Spanish because his accent gave him away. He said yes, and then I proceeded to ask for directions in Spanish.

Now, I know people in larger cities may get this opportunity all the time, but it was, well, exhilarating. I need a new adjective I suppose.

Each of these three people changed their demeanor completely when I addressed them in their native language, and I learned something from each person. This is why I love learning new languages!

There’s that motivation I was looking for!


Es muy interesante. ¡No! ¡Es fascinante!

One of my colleagues spends her workday assisting students with their writing.  She posted the following picture on her site a few days ago.  As a wanna-be writer, I must remember the message, but as an aspiring tri-lingual, it is a not-so-friendly reminder that I have a long way to go before I am a good writer in another language.  Selecting just the right word is probably a task for those who are in the advanced level of proficiency. For now, I am happy when I correctly use the imperfect tense and can distinguish the difference between “I like myself a lot” and “me, I like it a lot,” which in Spanish is the difference between “me gusto,” and “me gusta.”

This week I have been seeking out opportunities to use Spanish. I had an efficient conversation today with my server at a Mexican restaurant. He greeted me in English, I answered in Spanish, and then he just switched over to Spanish, speaking to me naturally, and just like that it was no big deal. In the past, when I have attempted to speak with servers as a novice speaker, they slowed down their speech and spoke to me in the fragmented Spanish usually reserved for children. This time, I knew what I needed to say, I asked some questions, gave a compliment, and we completed the transaction of food and money. It was exciting to have someone converse with me in another language without my face flushing from embarrassment.

In China, my experience has been that if I use any Chinese words correctly beyond “Ni Hao,” I am met with accolades typically reserved for those who summit Mount Everest. Although times are changing, the number of mei guo rens (Americans) who can speak Chinese is still fairly low. The down side of this enthusiastic support is that we are infrequently corrected when we use the wrong tone.  I become self-conscious because I assume that I am butchering their language while they politely nod.

The opposite is true in France. God love ’em, they are proud of their language, and quite rightfully so.  Not that the Chinese are not proud of their language, but the French have no qualms about helpfully pointing out any errors of pronunciation or grammar. Some say this is because they themselves were relegated to hours of drills to speak French correctly.  Why can’t we endure a few moments of repetition? When I speak in French with a French person whom I don’t know very well, I am aware that their ears are bleeding because I am butchering their language (okay, maybe not butchering, but not perfect) and I become self-conscious.

I know that many Americans speak Spanish as their second language, and perhaps that is why my conversation today was void of insecurity and bleeding.  If that is how it is going to be, I like my relationship with Spanish already. In fact, I think that it will be VERY enjoyable indeed!

My brain is full. Can I go home?

In the language cone described last week, I am currently a dollop of ice cream dribbling off the bottom onto your shoe. My cumulative sleep deprivation has me unable to communicate in any language. I find myself mute mid-sentence, as my brain slides from one language to the next, searching for the right words to express myself.

I am not sure if this means that by knowing some languages fairly well,  I am taking the luxury of finding the best option, or if I am just terrible at all of the languages.  For those of you who speak more than one language, you know those moments when you learn a word or phrase (I nearly typed una palabra or phrase–good example of my mixing languages) that captures a feeling or thought better than anything you know in your native language? That is probably one of the most rewarding aspects of learning another language-learning new ways to express the same ‘ole thoughts, new ways of approaching the world, situations, and communication in general.

Input, input, input. This is how I need to solve my problem. I listen to French internet news radio at work. I listen to CNN en Español on Satellite radio in my car. I am reading Anna Karenina in French, and I am in Spanish courses 4 days/week. I speak to A. in French. I am working my way through a Spanish grammar text for practice.  I have chosen for this to be my spare time hobby for at least the next year. A hobby that will hopefully, one day, provide me with interesting career options! Next semester I plan to take Spanish grammar and composition, so hopefully this will help me tremendously!

Snot by any other name is still snot.

My French vocabulary is expanding in ways I had never imagined as I speak French with my kiddo.  Last night, as I watched him practice crawling and performing various yoga moves I will never be able to emulate, I hit a roadblock in my conversation. I said, in French, “Let’s go wipe the…the…how do you say it in English? Snot?…off your face.”

Feeling like a sixth grader looking up bad words in the dictionary (I am sure they just Google it on their smartphones now), I had to look up snot. I don’t have the large desk-sized version of the Robert dictionary you French majors may have lugged around. I don’t even have the Petit Robert.  I have a small highly abridged version. I didn’t expect to find it, but there it was. In fact, not only did it tell me how to say snot (morve, f.), but it told me how to say “snotty adj. (as in children)- morveaux.”

I looked up snot in my Spanish dictionary next. Technology is great for quick answers, but I still love my dictionaries. It’s “mocos” in Spanish. As I contemplated the various ways I can sneak this into my Spanish Conversation course this Fall, I realized that the only Swedish word I remember from my friendship with some Swedish exchange students years ago is “slem,” or, snot. We were walking through arctic conditions on the UK campus, and the topic came up as the substance was forming ice on our faces.  Okay, it felt arctic to me. I am sure they thought it felt like home.

The point of all this is that until you know how to say random and seldom-taught vocabulary words such as snot, raccoon and spark plug in your target language, you have a lot of dictionary/smartphone time in your future. May all of them be as fun as snot, er, morve. I just hope you don’t need to know because someone is waiting for you to wipe it from their face.