March 23, 2011 | French

My Husband Has a Great Idea (I Think)

It may really help my French.

Yesterday I did 10 half-hour Pimsleur lessons in one day. Doing 10 Pimsleur lessons in one day is very disorienting; I am not sure I would recommend it. But I am in any case now done with Pimsleur.

A Famous French Restaurant Whose Name Means The Frog, and Which Brandt and I Passed on the Way to a Meeting This Morning

A Famous French Restaurant Whose Name Means “The Frog,” and Which Brandt and I Passed on the Way to a Meeting This Morning

I celebrated by going on a French outing. The fact that I was able to find the French outing I found is one of the reasons I love New York.

At 4:15 p.m. today I did a Google search. At 4:16 p.m., I found something of interest. At 5:55 p.m., I found myself sitting at a table on the other side of town in the offices of a group I had never heard of before: Association des Francophones Fonctionnaires des Organisations Internationales (AFFOI)I believe this translates as Association of Francophone Officials of International Organizations. And a Francophone is someone who speaks French, usually natively.

There were about 15 people there for a 6:00 p.m. lecture on this topic: “Comment rendre aux Organisations Internationales leur diversité linguistique et professionnelle?” Which I understood to mean “how to restore linguistic and professional diversity to international organizations.” The speaker was Dominique Hoppe, AFFOI’s president.

Every word was in French, and Monsieur Hoppe does not have what I would call a languid speaking style. Even taking into account that all foreign languages sound fast when you can’t understand them well, I think it would be accurate to say that he speaks très vite

Still, I am pretty sure I got the general gist of it: English is taking over at international organizations despite their complex and diverse linguistic traditions. It may be more convenient from an administrative and operational point of view to rely on a single language, but monolingualism encourages short-term thinking and simplification—and gets in the way of linguistic and cultural diversity, more thorough reflection, and a long-term vision reflecting truly global perspectives. All very interesting and important stuff.

At one point towards the end, a woman on the other side of the room said something that sounded suspiciously like a suggestion that we all introduce ourselves and say why we were there. Oops.

The thing was, unlike me, everyone there was fluent in French. Unlike me, everyone had been capable of understanding all that had preceded this suggestion. And this, like everything else that evening, was clearly going to go down in French.

We went around the room. A number of people who introduced themselves before I did spoke long and earnestly about their background and their concerns about the topic. I stuck with short. I said I was a writer, mentioned this project, and added, “Il faut peut-être avouer que je n’ai pas compris beaucoup que vous avez dit ce soir.” Approximately: “I should perhaps admit that I have not understood a lot of what you said tonight.”

At Grand Central, Heading Home From the French Lecture; I Find This Place Beautiful

At Grand Central, Heading Home From the French Lecture; I Find This Place Beautiful

I think there’s at least one mistake in there (for example, I am pretty sure I should have included the words de ce after beaucoup), but people laughed. Which I will take to mean that they understood.

Besides my French outing, the other big thing that happened today was that as I was sitting talking with my husband in our kitchen this morning, he said out of the blue, “We should speak to each other only in French until the end of April.” (April 30th is when my French unit ends.)

I was amazed by the suggestion. And promptly agreed! And we promptly began!

As I have mentioned previously, he achieved near fluency in French before he met me, when he dated a French-speaking woman. He is now rusty. I am rusty. But much can be achieved when two rusty people speak to each other. It is in fact amazingly helpful.

Now, I wouldn’t have suggested this. I wouldn’t have thought it could be done. We have an English-language relationship. My thinking would have been that in French we wouldn’t be able to manage the nuances of our lives together. If you still can’t remember the words for simple things like “floor” and “wheat” and “stamp,” can you manage to express complex ideas and feelings without causing serious misunderstandings?

Plus, I would have assumed it would feel too weird.

But really, it didn’t feel weird at all. We understood each other quite well all day, and we probably got in a good three hours of French before midnight (we both talk a lot). And each of the few times one of us forgot and lapsed into English for a sentence or two, the other was there with a stern “En français!”

If we actually do this, there is a chance I could get further in French than anything else, even German or Spanish, in which I started out a lot more advanced than I did in French three weeks ago.

I am crossing my fingers. The question is, CAN WE DO IT???

Comments (1)

Katherine • Posted on Fri, March 25, 2011 - 9:58 am EST

What a great idea! Very admirable!! This reminds me of my experience at Middlebury Language Schools in Vermont, where I did my Master’s.  I really recommend taking a look at it and highly recommend it to anyone who has the time to spend 2-3 months there.  They have a very strict no English policy.  At first I couldn’t believe it would work, but it does in fact work very well.

Post a Comment