Well, considering that I received today the official official results of my language tests (over a month after finishing them), I think that I can formally consider myself bilingual.
Je pensais donc à écrire ce blogue en français mais ce n’est pas peut-etre un bon idée étant donné que tous mes lecteurs sont anglais
Learning french full-time was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It was an amazing experience, in that it’s opened up a whole world of books, music, and ways of expressing myself; but it was also incredibly challenging and, at times, deeply humbling.
School – learning – has never been a challenge for me. A joy, always. A lot of work? Occasionally (see: master’s thesis research). But never difficult, in that I never struggled to understand a concept.
Now, obviously, there was a lot of self-selection there (as in, I focused on my strengths and dropped my weak courses), but I don’t want to be falsely modest; I’m very lucky in that I tend to get things quickly. It’s a fair trade for only being able to catch projectiles with my face, I think.
But languages aren’t like other subjects. I can understand theories the first time they’re explained to me, but memorizing vocabulary, structure, conjugation… it takes practice and a fair amount of being wrong before you’ve got it down. I don’t know how many times I would have to look up the same word, over and over again, before I would remember it. There were mistakes that I would make constantly (I would say “j’ai lit” instead of “j’ai lu” for so long because it follows the same pattern as “dire,” even though I KNEW it was wrong).
It was so frustrating. I would come home in tears, convinced that I was never going to be able to speak this language. I hated struggling to get even the most basic message across, because I have always been very good at finding le mot juste (ha! see what I did there?) in english. Reading wasn’t enjoyable because I had to plod along with a dictionary at my side.
And I was so tired. I would go to bed at 10 (but be falling asleep on the couch at 9), struggle to drag myself out of bed at 7 after hitting the snooze 3 times, and curl up under the covers on the weekends while Eric nobly walked the dog without me. Normally I sleep a clean 7 hours and hate napping or sleeping in (waste of time), but I couldn’t get enough.
But gradually, it came. The words started being there when I needed them. I didn’t need the dictionary to read Harry Potter any more. I was able to make jokes, arguments, requests. I understood more; complex structures found their way into my speech without me even realizing it.
The written tests were easy; the oral was terrifying. The problem is that it isn’t a conversation, it’s a very rigidly structured sequence of events, and it went by so fast. I had no idea what to think afterwards – I had moments where I was convinced that I had failed, and others of cautious optimism. Obviously, I guess that I was good enough, because I passed.
And now here I am, at work. I chat with my colleagues in french. I’m continuing to meet my french conversation buddy (also because we’ve become friends), and I read the news on radio-canada. I hope that I’ll be able to do some actual, substantive work in french, in order to continue getting better, and of course I’d love to do a post in a francophone country, which I’ve heard is an amazing way to solidify your language skills.
If you asked me during language training, I would have said that I could never do it again. It’s so draining, so frustrating, and so life-consuming. But now that I’m finished, it feels so good to be able to communicate in a different way, and I definitely want to keep my eye out for opportunities to learn a third language.