Sunday, November 1, 2015

Learning to Learn Again

As a former French teacher the concept of relearning has always fascinated me: the ability for the brain to learn something again after having forgotten or neglected it.  For some relearning is a difficult challenge that takes time and dedication, like relearning to walk after a serious accident, and for others it's easy, like riding a bicycle after a hiatus.  For me returning to France after seven months falls somewhere in between these two examples.  Every time I come back I am surprised at how long it takes me to relearn how to live "à la francaise." Sure, there are the little things that any person experiences such jet lag and teaching your body the appropriate times to eat, but then there are the more challenging things like speaking the language and retraining your ear to understand what is being said around you.  I have had a love/hate relationship with the French language since the age of fifteen.  When I started learning the language I never thought it would have that effect on me, but it does.  The language has brought me to tears of frustration and defeat many times, but has also uplifted me and opened me to a whole new world that I never knew existed.

I always used to tell my students not be hard on themselves when learning French: "it's a difficult language.  It takes time, patience, and practice." I'd say.  However, if there is one thing that I have realized about myself since returning to France it's that I am bad at following my own advice.  I have always struggled with being a perfectionist and thus extra hard on myself, and I often find that in the areas where I have patience for others I lack patience for myself.  After arriving in France, jet lagged and exhausted, I was so quick to be hard on myself when I stepped off the plane and didn't understand everything that was being said around me.  Even after two weeks in France I still want to cry when I don't fully understand why the lady at the bank won't let me open a bank account or the funny joke that Florian's friend told during the Rugby game.

My dad always says, "If I am ever the smartest person in the room then I want to leave."  Maybe I need to adopt this mentality.  I'm not French, French is not my maternal language, and therefore there will always be words or expresses that I don't know and jokes that I just won't get.  I'm still learning and that's okay. After all, what would be the fun in knowing everything?  And maybe it's the very fact that I don't yet understand everything that has kept me motivated on my French journey these past twelve years.

Even as I write I can tell you that I'm not there yet, but I'm hoping that with everyday that passes I will realize that it's okay not to be perfect and that learning is, and always should be, a life long adventure.


  1. How completely I understand your sentiment. I, too, am a French teacher, and have always measured myself harshly, despite the successes and joys that my chosen career has given me. Decades after having begun this language journey, I am still as passionate about it as ever ... And I am still learning something every day. I am sure that living where you are living and being supported by your French husband, things will move more quickly for you. Out of curiosity, what language do you speak together? Then there is the whole delightful topic of bringing children up bilingual ...!

    1. It's so comforting to know that you understand the sentiment. I absolutely loved being a French teacher in the United States and miss my job dearly. However, as I embark on this new adventure in France I know that I need to stop being so hard on myself and remember that it's okay not to know everything! Florian and I speak French together which really helps, but I still have much to learn.