Oui, un peu. That was my typical response to someone asking if I speak French until this week. Now, day by day, I can feel myself turning into a French language master!
This week I started an intensive French course at Alliance Française, a language school in the heart of the city. I was lucky to get in as, by the time we had confirmation we were staying in France, registration was closed. I emailed the school, begging for a last-minute spot and fortunately they still had a few openings.
Once registering and paying my course fee, my first lesson was in how much I really don’t know in French. The secretary asked me if I was a beginner and I responded that I felt I was somewhere in-between beginner and elementary (ie. I know a little more than nothing, but nothing more than a little). Fortunately they offered a placement test to put me in the right course. Unfortunately, it was a lot harder than I’d anticipated. It included three sections of reading comprehension and multiple choice questions (none of which were about ice cream flavors and my thoughts on each). The instructions were all in French too and I wasn’t allowed to use a dictionary. I finished it thinking, “well at least I answered the questions about my name correctly (I hope!)”.
I guess I knew a little more than I thought as they put me in the A2 class, which is a step above true beginner. I was a bit nervous leading up to the first day, not knowing what to expect. Would the class be taught entirely in French? Would I be able to keep up? Would my classmates talk to me?
Monday morning rolled around bright and early and I did something I haven’t done consistently since I left the workforce a year ago—got up with the alarm and showered and dressed right away. Don’t get me wrong, at some point
each most days I get a shower and dress in something a little more sophisticated than pajamas. Lately, however, it’s been much more comfortable to spend most of the day in a pair of sweatpants or cotton shorts. I really can’t wait until it gets warm enough to wear sundresses. I’m so over wearing pants.
As I was getting ready, Matt asked me if I’d picked out my “first day of school outfit.” I just laughed. At 31 weeks pregnant, my wardrobe is pretty limited. I basically went with whatever would allow me to sit relatively comfortably in a classroom for about three and a half hours—maternity leggings, tank top and sweater it is!
Like the amazing, dutiful husband he is, Matt packed me some snacks and walked me to the school. He kissed me goodbye outside and then I was on my own. Time to sink or swim!
Signs in the building pointed me to the premiere étage (first floor) to check in and purchase my class books. I had the option of huffing it up what I thought was probably just one flight of stairs or taking a very old elevator. I opted to huff it—and huff and puff it I did. The first floor was up nearly three flights of stairs! I know many of you are saying, “it’s just three flights, how bad can it be?” Try doing it at nearly eight month’s pregnant and then get back to me.
Books purchased, I went in search of my classroom which was, of course, on the third floor. Again, I could have taken the elevator, but decided to suck it up. I soon discovered that the elevator only went as high as the second floor anyway, so it wouldn’t have done me too much good. I figure if I can get through this whole month using just the stairs, I deserve a gold medal—or at least an ice cream rose from Amorino.
After finding my classroom, I settled in and began meeting my fellow classmates. I was a bit intimidated at first as everyone jumped right in doing introductions in French, but quickly found my classmates friendly and kind. We all helped each other if we didn’t understand each other’s questions or know the right word to respond. My class is very diverse; I’m the only American and the others come from Brazil, Iceland, Spain, Romania, Japan, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam.
Our instructor came in at 9:00 and started the class off right away in French. She speaks very fast, but is sweet and makes sure to slow down or use different terms if we don’t understand what she is saying. English is a last resort. In the past two days, she’s used it only a couple of times to define French words. Otherwise, all conversation, instruction and questioning are done in French.
I actually surprised myself how well I’m able to follow along. Yes, there are still moments when I give her a cock-headed blank stare like a confused dog, but I’d say I’m comprehending 90% of what’s being said. Talking with a few classmates, I learned it’s about the same for them as well. So I no longer feel like I’ll be the “American left behind.”
One of the most incredible things about the class is my baby. I’ve read about some babies going nuts when they hear their favorite music. Well, mine is rocking and rolling all class long—especially when she hears us speaking. The instructor joked with me that she’ll come out speaking French. If there’s one other thing I hope get out of taking French lessons, other than being able to communicate with the hospital staff at my delivery, it’s that I pass along my love and knowledge of other languages to my daughter. There really is such an advantage to being multilingual these days.
Well, je dois fair mes devoirs (I must do my homework). As my husband says, “no Netflix and chill until your French homework is done.” Jusqu’a la prochaine fois!