Last week, I attended the first week of a three-week French intensive program at a local university.
Mostly because I've lived with a house full of francophones for 25 years, I placed into Niveau 5, Intermediate Advanced, a horribly inaccurate assessment. When a thirty-minute homework assignment takes you four hours, that's a sign.
During the first week, I demoted myself twice, until I could find the sweet spot where I was challenged, but not losing ground every day: bienvenue, Niveau 3, Pre-intermediate.
Busting myself down made waves among my former classmates. They were in summer school either to ramp up their French for a new job (with tuition paid by the employer) or needed a certain level of proficiency to assure anxious parents that they were not strictly there to party through the Montreal summer's endless festival. (I'll never tell, Lourdes.) They looked at me curiously, enviously.
In Pre-Intermediate, class was mostly free from the nerve-wracking stress of dictée, and life improved immensely. I looked forward to class.
In four days, I felt the panic, confusion, sleep loss, self-recrimination and hopelessness that learning difficulties engender. Until I took myself into a class where I could cope, my mood of frustration spilled over to the rest of life. I'm glad that I–a star student in my youth–experienced this struggle; the empathy alone was worth the pain.
As predicted, his brain developed out of the most significant difficulties. I have a much more vivid sense of his struggles and achievement.
I'm enjoying Sonia, our teacher: think of a Quebeçoise version of Robin Williams in "Good Morning Vietnam" and you have her. Tiny miniskirt, rectangular prof glasses, swooping scarves and a clown's mimetic skills.
We dutifully read passages on the history of Quebec, then Sonia declares "C'est platte" and gets us to stage a mock fashion show, dressed as we are. Several middle-aged civil servants nervously smooth their Tilley shirts. The teen-aged Mexican chiquitas strip off the sweaters they wear to fend off air conditioning, revealing little camis barely perched on tanned torsos.
Everybody works it in French; a burly American doctor does a perfect supermodel strut, and we learn.
What are you learning? How's it going?
|C'est formidable, Eddie!|