It’s best to listen to this song while you browse this post.
I feel as though I’ve walked through some crazy portal to an earthly paradise. Life is melting into some lovely second fall beauty like the camembert we roasted in tin foil over the fire. Sarah forgot to remove the plastic and at first we thought all was lost, but apparently the faint noxious fumes blended seamlessly with the dankly earthy French cheese. Especially after a bottle of Rosé and a another of a very sweet apertif wine. And some Bordeaux. What? This is France, à la français.
Saturday was sunshine, captured in a tiny bottle and tucked away for rainier times. Gorge, Fairies, Cows, French, Chateau, Croque-monsieur, tout ça. Fantastic company. My shoulders haven’t been this loose in four years.
This is language boot camp.
I always find myself seeking out opportunities to improve or perfect my second, third, and fourth tongues (and sometimes even the first…the GRE was a good excuse for that). I listen to the Italian or French news. I read Harry Potter in Spanish. I scout six online news sources in four languages. My phone, gmail, Facebook, and computers are all set to different languages that I speak to force me to learn verbs like “to reboot.”
All this works to the end that it just dissolves into Language. Nothing more, nothing less. I start to get confused between all of them. That’s the test this time, since I’m not going in blind like when I moved to Chile without ever studying Spanish formally. I have six years, an AP Test, and a college conversation course under my belt. Needless to say, my expectations for my French were higher coming in.
And the first day…I did the linguistic equivalent of a face plant. Several times. Jet lag be damned, I ought to have some French phrases in there to get me by in a shop or a taxi or something! Right? Right? Merde!
It was the familiar prostrate humbling of immersion, the true test. No matter how many conversations you’ve had with your cat or the bathroom mirror, it will break you. You’ll have to pee and be unable to even mumble some semblance of an intelligent or adult “Excuse me, where may I relieve myself?” and instead be reduced to, “Toilet? Uh…What? Oh…uh, what? Oh…” and just giving up to wander and try to follow the directions that they just gave you to the next corner, not hiding your incomprehension one bit behind your confident walk.
The biggest difference this time is that I will be required to hold intelligent conversations in each of my languages, often with no time to “flip the switch,” so to speak. Oh, wait…you’re from Spain and you speak no English and no French? Ok, ahora hablemos castellano. Como? Tu eres de Corea y tu no hablas nada de castellano o italiano? Ok, je te parles du francais. Comment? You need me to translate for the woman giving us the tour of the city? English or Spanish?
And suddenly I’m interpreting again, which is something that I did quite a lot in South America. I would’ve never thought that right now in the séjour I’d be having full-on long conversations about politics, religion, and contraception (those of you who know me are probably reassured seeing my favorite subjects show up even in French). But I seriously never dreamed that I’d do the same in Spanish here, and eventually in Italian because my hostess’ partner is coming to visit.
The change to each language seems to be getting faster and faster. In Italy in 2009, I went in blind and came out speaking colloquial Italian. I remember that special day where it felt like something shifted bodily in my brain, like a great hibernating beast arising from her slumber. I could suddenly and completely understand the TV, the radio, all conversation. It was impressive linguistic magic, and I’ve never been the same.
In Chile, it took about a month. Here, it’s been five days.
What’s next? Korean? Mandarin? Portuguese? This is obviously a lifelong quest to recapture those sudden moments of clarity. French was the first language I studied, and it will probably remain my second best.
We’ll see how fast I switch in Italy in November. I’m predicting two days.