The Myth Confirmed

I have a secret alter-ego who emerges about as often as the world ends. This person is a model French student who notes down every new expression she hears and looks it up in the French-English dictionary when she gets home in the evening, and maybe even does a little bedtime reading of that dictionary just to notch up her vocabulary: a sort of digestif, you know.

I wish she would come around more often.

Anyway, a good thing and a bad thing happened this week. The bad thing was that I mildly injured myself in a ballet class, of which I wasn’t aware until I noticed the blood a while later. Nothing serious. The good thing was that while I was telling my host mom about it this morning, I said something like “mais je ne m’en suis pas rendue compte jusqu’à plus tard…”

The broad translation of my sentence is that I didn’t notice I’d hurt myself until a while afterwards. But I can’t honestly tell you what rendue compte means.

It’s true, then, the myth they told us about going abroad and learning to speak the language from the inside out. I didn’t believe it in Professor Shams’ French 300 last fall. I didn’t believe it in Dr. Dzeikowicz’s French 473 this spring. (Mme. Sauret didn’t bother to dissimulate the myth.) And for my first two-and-a-half months in Nantes, I was firmly convinced that learning the language was still an orderly process based on consciously imitating what I heard. One of my fellow students characterized learning a foreign language thus: “In English, words stand for things. In French, words stand for words.” Which is to say that your brain has to work twice as hard…

Nevertheless I catch myself saying things that make sense in French but that I can’t immediately translate into English. The subconscious aspect of language learning is, well, not so subconscious anymore.  I might even banish that secret alter-ego to some exotic place like Amérique du Nord to start buffing up her English, which is falling into disrepair.

Happiness, my friends, is watching the dust gather on your Larousse.