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  Brad's Teacher Writing (March, 2002)


The following is a draft essay for this week's assignment, on our experiences as second language learners. 

A Foolish, but Earnest Language Learner

     I fit Albert Koehl's definition of a foolish language learner: I'm always willing to make a fool of myself. I have learned to speak and read French (a little). During my education I've had the usual difficulties with pronunciation, reading, and definitely learned some French culture.

     Pronouncing French is difficult, but I always blunder along anyway. When I travelled through France by bicycle in 1984, my wife and I would often phone ahead to reserve a hotel room in advance. I should say I would phone ahead; my wife was shy about talking on the phone. As a result, I would happily ask for a room in my fractured French and receive, most often, a puzzled "Pardon, Monsieur?" for my efforts. Mercifully, the clerk would soon realize my problem and my blundering would produce, in the end, a nice room for the night.

     Reading French, for me, isn't too problematic as I've often been able to use the same strategies as I would when reading difficult English text. For example, I always read a daily newspaper, no matter where I am. In France, I would even buy Le Monde, the most sophisticated and difficult paper in the country. To be sure, I would only understand part of what I read, but I do remember reading an opinion piece on Pierre Trudeau in a Paris café, and found, to my pleasure, that knowing the context (and the politics) proved very useful when decoding that difficult text.

     Exposure to the French language has provided me some clues into the culture as well. I lived a year of my life in Quebec City, trying my best to get along in French. Quebecois, I found, use gesture quite a bit more than we do while speaking; soon enough, I was gesticulating wildly while speaking, enjoying the freer ways of communication (though probably looking a bit ridiculous). Another difference was the use of "Je t'aime" for more than just things we love. Although I asked, it seems that the French say "I love" when an English speaker might use "I like," and were truly puzzled at my queries about the difference. Culture and language are truly intertwined I discovered.

     Though I might seem foolish in my willingness to speak, and overly brave in my reading, the insights I have gained into another culture through language has made the learning truly worthwhile.






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