I did so badly on the French SAT that the college I wanted to go to, the one my mother had gone to, told me I wouldn’t get in unless I did something about it. So I got tutored, got a slightly higher score the next year, and got in.
In college we had to go to language lab once a week and talk into a tape recorder. It was my nightmare. I had a ghastly French accent and hated to listen to myself. We also read a lot of avant-garde French plays that went right over my head.
When Chip was in Vietnam he came up with this scheme where he’d get out of the army three months early by signing up to go to a university in France. Since we were going to live there for six months, I decided I’d better get tutored again. Once a week I’d go to a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Philadelphia and croak out my broken, horribly accented French to the chef and his garlic breath.
In Tours I would ride the bus downhill every day with all the garlic-breathing men from our low-income HLM housing, on my way to the Institut Français. Unfortunately, this didn’t really help me any more than my three years of high school French, the first tutor, all those language labs and college plays, or my second tutor.
My friend Karen, married to a Frenchman, speaks such fluent French she sometimes doesn’t remember which language she has been speaking. I am very envious of this. I think fluency in a different language influences how you see things – it gives you a different perspective on the world.
But, after years of pretending to be a sourde-mouette*, I at least have that perspective.
*My super-fluent friend Karen tells me what I wrote here means deaf seagull! I’m a hopeless case. But the image of me, maybe trying to grab a baguette while the words swirl around is so evocative I think I’ll not change it (but it’s supposed to be sourde-muette).