Adult vs. Child

11:40 AM

Yesterday we were talking to some Expat friends of ours, all of us musing over how our children were learning French. There were all sorts of ages represented in the young child area, along with all sorts of different backgrounds. We had a child who was pretty much silent until she could speak full sentences and then suddenly burst forth both in English and in French, speaking fluently and almost without any flaws. We had another, Firecracker, who started speaking very young, using simple words and working her way up to sentences, but who also didn't have too much trouble even becoming tri-lingual. She is someone who LOVES to talk and found no problem in speaking all her languages. Then we had the oldest in the group, Queenie, who has some speech problems, but nothing  that is keeping her from being tri-lingual, who also is speaking three languages without too much difficulty.

We ooed and awed about our kids and made some predictions for the 19 month old running around. We mostly looked on with pride at the rather "effortless" progress our kids were making.

Then we turned to each other. Almost everyone in the room was at least bilingual, but only Principe was fully fluent in French. My friend commented on how she was finally willing to learn French and was thinking of joining me in my class. Her husband made a comment of how proud he was of her when he listened to her speaking French with the mother of their daughter's friend. "She is almost fluent!" he exclaimed proudly.

She blushed and refused to accept the compliment.

But, while most of us expat women who don't work outside the home are usually self-condemning about our abilities to speak the local language, we should realized, and take pride in, how much effort it takes on our part to actually learn the language. Principe got to learn French by going to high school. Granted, it took a great deal of effort on his part as he was a teenager and had just moved to a new country, etc. He was thrown into intensive classes and ended up learning really quickly. I learned Spanish by hanging out with him, making an effort to speak it, studying it in Spain and then living there where all I spoke was Spanish. My friend learned English by going to the university in Texas and then living and working in the States. Principe learned English with me, basically, and by going to the university in the States.

But the university is over. And now we all have kids. And none of us speak French in the home. None of us are in positions to be listening to and speaking French all day long. In fact, if I am at home working or cleaning the house, I can go an entire day without speaking French. So the fact that we do learn some, or make an effort to speak at all is quite the accomplishment. Believe me, I know some people here who have gone YEARS without ever really learning the language. It isn't easy. It takes time and effort and it takes you putting yourself out there to make mistakes. Like when I asked for a tampon when I really wanted the top to the soda bottle. Or today when I just couldn't seem to get out a full sentence and stammered around for a bit before I finally got the sales guy to understand that one of the items should have rung up as on sale.

Koodos to adults to learn another language and then put themselves out there to talk. It takes guts. I admire you. I know what you re going through. The frustration, feeling like you will never get it, wondering if it is all worth it or not. I think it is worth it. It is keeping us learning at least, keeping our minds in shape. Besides, you can never claim to know the culture if you don't know the language, right?

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