On Friday, I finished a two-week immersion class at the French Institute, Alliance Francais (FIAF). On the last day of class, we took a test. It took about an hour – we watched une petite filme about a family returning from vacances. Then we answered questions. We discussed our answers. I got one wrong.
I still received my passport entitling me to move up to the next level from intermediate towards mastery. The passport said I was able to “understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g., very basic personal and family information….)”
Then we turned off the lights and watched a feature film. It was “Cote d’Azur.” Very silly and sexy. Every few minutes, someone was masturbating in the shower in a villa near the beach. It was Friday morning. I thought, “I paid $500 for this!” well worth it!
I was one of six people in the class. My classmates were all at least 15 years younger than me. My teacher, Michelle, was my age. Just about everyday Michelle wore polka dots. She was from Haiti, Mexico City, France, and Queens (as far as I could understand).
The other kids (I always call people in my classes “kids,” whether I’m the student, teacher, oldest, or youngest) spoke French very well. They were from Colombia, Russia, England, Cuban descent, far flung places. I was the only one from the heartland. They were taking the class to communicate better with their husbands, boyfriends, jobs, lives. I took it to prepare for my trip to Geneva and Taize in a week and a half.
At some point during every class, Michelle would exclaim, “La vie est belle!” or “Vive La Vie!” I loved that!
We discussed deep topics — religion, crime, cancer.
I learned several things:
1. School is difficult. Concentrating on new words and unfamiliar grammatical patterns is exhausting. I give my kids credit. I applaud anyone who attempts to learn anything.
2. I have to forget what I think I know. Having studied a little Spanish, the Spanish word will pop in my head first and I just have to forget it. I have to listen for my second wave of thinking.
3. There are rules. Like when I took tennis at NYU, I loved it; because unlike studying literature, there are actually right answers. The ball bounces inside the line or not. There are absolutely correct and incorrect ways of doing things. In life, the rules are often amorphous. It’s nice to have clarity – to speak and read and think properly, not ambiguously.
4. That I have an aptitude for realms beyond work and family. When I first had kids, my whole wide circumference of life in NYC shrunk. I was lucky if I made it to Fairway or Riverside Park, forget a museum. If I took a class, it was on parenting. But now, taking a class in French, my world opens up again. And the world is wide.
5. Studying French means studying contemporary French culture too. France is not fixed in some ancient belle epoch. Because I modeled for a brochure, I was given tickets to see Bettina Atala, a French performance/film artist in the FIAF festival, “Crossing the Line.” So funny and creative, Bettina narrated her film, “Season 1, Episode 2,” a commentary on the unreal rules of filmmaking.
6. The fine art of listening? Not so facile! When you talk, you absolutely know the next thing you are going to say. But when you listen, wow! It’s almost always a surprise. Especially in French. Je prefere parler. Mais j’aime entendre francais.