Bonjour mes amis

The one topic I believe that I ignored thus far but deserves it’s very own post is of course the one in which I finally talk about my experience with language. After 2 months of living in Paris and speaking French on a regular basis, I suppose I finally have something to say. I also can’t wait to reread this in the spring of 2013 and celebrate all the progress I made.

It’s necessary to confess that I don’t speak French in 100% of my conversations. I always speak French when I’m at school, at home or doing an activity as a part of my program. I don’t however speak French all the time with my friends. I’m not really ashamed to admit it, even though at first I felt very guilty speaking English, because I firmly believe that it’s healthy. I can only speak for myself but when you’re restricted to only speaking French you can only express 60% of your true feelings and thoughts. Additionally, what ends up being expressed, in this language that is not your own, is a watered down version of your real ideas and feelings. I know that the only way to get comfortable in French and reach the point where I can fully express myself is to force myself to speak French in every situation, but I honestly don’t believe it’s healthy. Speaking English became a sort of therapy. When I finally “broke down” and spoke English with my friends for the first time I realized that it had been weeks since i had laughed. In French, none of us are really funny. I wound up laughing so hard I was crying while telling a story, that wasn’t even that funny, just because my sense of humor had been suppressed for weeks. The same is true with your negative emotions that get remain unexpressed all because you can’t find the precise words to use.

So that is my little confession. But after I spend a little bit of time speaking English with my friends, we usually go back to speaking French by choice. Firstly because it’s fun and secondly because I recognize that it’s important if I ever want to advance.

After about a month in Paris I noticed that my fluidity and speed had increased, but I was still convinced that i was speaking incoherently. It was quite an “AH-HAA” moment when my friend told me over crepes that she saw an immense (or maybe I’m exaggerating now) difference in my oral communication and that I was in fact speaking in grammatically correct sentences for the most part. It will probably be one of those moments i won’t forget because until then I had thought I sort of plateaued after gaining a little bit of “speed and accuracy” during my first month. Right now, I feel like my level of communication is just an actualization of what I always knew I was capable of / what was going on inside my head. I really hope my progress continues. At least now I know, due to my phonetiques class, what my “trouble areas” are and how I can improve.

For example, I have to pay attention to how I pronounce [u] [ø] and strangely enough [a]

[u] as in pour, cours, et bonjour & [ø] as in bol, porte, homme. The reason why I have trouble with these sounds is because you have to make your voice quite deep to achieve the sounds. Not only are the sounds unnatural to me but I sort of resist having to hear my voice sound sort of.. masculine ?

[a] as in amie, ananas, américain etc. This sound I was surprised to find was an issue for me. Instinctively I try to pronounce it as “uh” like “uh-mie” and “uh-mericain”. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the result of the 2 years spent during college trying to water down my New York accent, the one that would have made me pronounce it  AHH-ksent instead of the more neutral pronunciation of aks-ENT. (I hope this was logical)

And while it’s still a challenge to speak in French  because I don’t have a complete vocabulary and I still have to stop myself to make sure i’m using the right very tense (I believe there are 17 verb tenses in French and 12 in English), I see small clues that I’m definitely advancing. Sometimes I shock myself after i realize how quickly I can spit out a response or how when I write or speak in English, like when writing this post for example, I can only think of the French version of what I want to say and cannot find the proper English equivalent of what I want to say.

I hope it isn’t too long until I can write an update on this subject and let you all know how I can finally yell at people in French (my personal measure of what it means to be truly fluent in a language.)




The Best Thing about a trip to Paris is Iceland

Just kidding.

But on a serious note: I just booked my flight to Paris for this August! As soon as I got my confirmation my going to Paris suddenly felt real again. Sometimes, at weeks at a time, even though I continue to research and read about Paris in order to prepare myself, I don’t give myself time to really wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be in Paris in 4 months for a year long journey. I think it’s because I have so much to do in order to finish up this spring semester that I know I can’t let myself get emotionally/mentally distracted. Or maybe it’s because if I actually gave myself time to think about it I would begin to freak out and concentrate on how unprepared I am.

Whatever the reason is, I haven’t been obsessing about my year abroad like I thought I would at this point in time. I am busy with the Visa process, making spreadsheets on Excel of places to visit and buying my “Paris sandals” or my “Paris converter-adapter” but I haven’t really enjoyed many moments of “ahhhh… I made it! I’m going to Paris” I’m sure that will come in time.

Speaking of time and the changes that come with it… I’m going to Paris ?? Contrary to many of the girls in this program, going to Paris has not been a life long, calculated dream. Although I’m sure that I have fantasized of traveling and  visiting Paris, I had always been perfectly content with living in NYC. Plus, never would I have dreamt of being able to speak French (sort of) and actually integrating myself into the French culture. I never imagined myself to be more than a tourist in a city like Paris. I will never be a Parisienne, bien sur, and I’m fine with that. However, I fully expect to participate during my year abroad.

Maybe it’s sad, but it’s how I feel: Going to Paris feels like I’m finally living. I have always felt a bit like an observer, even in my own life. Always waiting for something to happen to me or to reach a certain age in order to begin living. Well after I touch down to CDG airport, I will have no excuse! I will have reached the point in which I MUST participate, seize the day and “live”. Otherwise, I’m wasting my own time.