On parle francais
I was a good student in my three years of high school French. I could translate French short stories and received consistent grades of A. However, speaking in French was an another story.I could not master the accent. Mr. Manson, my teacher cringed when I was asked to respond in French. "Vous parlez francais comme un vache espaniole," he commented. ("You speak French like a Spanish cow.") In college I wound up in a French class far below my ability level. I didn't challenge another easy "A". That was the last time I dealt with French for about 55 years.
A trip to Paris
In 1995, my wife and i decided to visit the City of Lights. I borrowed some tapes to renew my familiarity with the labguage but never got around to listening to them. When we landed at de Gaul Airport my brain seemed to tune into the langauge again. It was as if a switch had been thrown unlocking vocbulary, idioms, and phrases I thought were long gone. It was as if I had suddenly retrieved material mistakenly deleted on my computer. Delighted with my newly rescued memories, I decided to speak only French during a week-long stay. Walking from Monmartre to the Paris Opera on the first day, I became somewhat disoriented and asked a gendarme for directions. I must have spoken well because he answered in rapid French. I understood nothing he said but wasn't about to let him know that. The Opera House was right across the street. I managed to upgrade our room at the Hotel du Louvre by communicating in a pidgeon French, substituting English words when I was stuck. I complained that it was difficult to make love on a double bed where the two single mattresses were aligned vertically, with the split down the middle. I don't know if it was the image projected or my feeble attempts to communicate that made the two young female clerks convulse in laughter. The next day we were moved to a magnificent suite with a true double bed mattress. While others complain that the French are rude to Americans, I found only helpful friendliness from strangers who appreciated my bumbling efforts to speak their language.
Proficient once more
It was another fourteen years before I again couldtest my skills at the high school where I counsel students with emotional problems. I routinely call students from class to come for sessions with me. Teachers have telephones in their classrooms . Some teachers, usual;ly the most conscientious, are resistent to releasing their charges from the on-going lesson. I understand that and always ask if it is a convenient time. Most teachers cooperate readily except if there is an exam in progress or a review for an exam. No real problem. In this case Dr. K. released Chris for social skills coiunseling but followed up with a terse note explaining that I had interrupted her lesson and suggesting I not do so again. Now I am sympathetic to teachers who really want to teach, but in this case I thought it may be as important for Chris to practice eye contact and basic communication skills as it was to review vocabulaire. Neverthelless, I sent her a polite apology note...en francais. True, I required some help from a French Dictionaire, but all-in-all it wasn't a bad effort. I excused myself for my mauvais French, pointing out that il y'a beaucoup d'ans since I last studied French au lycee. I await my grade.