School came pretty easy to me back in the day. I was lucky. I picked up on material quickly and was that person you hated who could memorize facts for a half an hour before any test and ace it. So when I decided that I wanted to learn French to keep up with my kids, I never questioned whether or not I would be able to do what I set out to do.
Knowing myself and my schedule, I figured that the best way to go about this would be to teach myself using a highly structured program. Being a freelance writer, I create my own structure to get my work done, which is a challenge for somebody of my “artistic” nature. Some days my creativity and energy allow me to go beyond the achievement of my goals, but other days, it is a real battle to focus my attention on the work or on anything at all, other than the novel I’m reading or the pretty pictures and stories I find on the social networks to which I subscribe (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest.) If I was going to get the French learning done, I needed to be walked through the process. I needed a preset program.
I chose Rosetta Stone, a pricy option but one that came highly recommended and focused on teaching the student how to speak the language rather than focusing on memorization and rote learning. I’m wise enough in my old age to know that education is best absorbed if you are required to use the knowledge, not just memorize it for a test. Regurgitating answers does not an education make. Of course, that is what I was good at during my early schooling years: memorization and rote learning. Not putting the learning into practice.
I’d been working on the Rosetta Stone Lessons online for two weeks. I’d worked my way through the multiple lessons of Unit One. Men and women, boys and girls were eating and drinking and wearing hats and coats and dresses and pants. They were riding bicycles and swimming and reading books and newspapers. All in French. I was scoring in the 95% to 100% range on each of the lessons.
When I finished Unit One, a prompt came up asking me to schedule a studio session. I wasn’t exactly sure what this was but I knew it would be 45 minutes to an hour long and involved a native French speaker, a couple of other RS students and me reviewing what we’d learned in Unit One — through conversation. Just thinking about scheduling the session made my hands clammy. My daughters told me I was being foolish and that it was just like a French class. How else was I going to learn how to use the language if I didn’t practice using the language? Damn, kids today are smart. And way too confident. 🙂
Finally, the time came for my studio session. I’d spent the day before reviewing two hours worth of core Unit One lessons. Now all I had to do was use what I had learned. I set up my microphone and logged into the session. Elisabeth, the native speaker, said Bonjour to me and Kate and Peter. Then she dove right into asking questions of each of us. I was shaking I was so nervous. Both Kate and Peter responded to Elisabeth’s questions confidently (and with much better accents than I had). Now it was my turn. She asked me to describe what was happening in a picture, which was displayed on the screen. I paused. I wasn’t sure that I understood what she said (all in French) but kind of guessed it based on how the others had answered their questions. I timidly responded with one and two word answers. She said I was right and then repeated my answers in full sentences. Kate and Peter had known to use full sentences when they answered. In all honesty, I knew too but could only manage to get the basic answers out of my mouth.
The entire session went like this. Kate and Peter responded quickly, fluently, in full sentences to Elisabeth and I pushed out one word responses that weren’t always the right answers. I knew the material when I saw it but when I heard it and had to think on my feet and speak the language, I froze. I couldn’t access any of the material I’d learned so well in my lessons. If she’d given us a written test, I would’ve done very well. Instead, I was so flustered that it seemed like I hadn’t really focused on the lessons as well as an ideal student (like Kate and Peter) would do.
I felt something I don’t feel often, especially when it comes to academics. I felt vulnerable and out of control. I felt like the remedial student in the class. I WAS the remedial student in the class.
But I made it through. And now I think I’d better take advantage of the speaking games that come with the Rosetta Stone package. And sign up for more studio sessions. I think I can take two a week. My stomach is fluttering at the thought. But I can’t stop now. I still want to be able to speak the language. Even if it means humiliating myself week after week until I finally begin to understand. Even if it means admitting to myself that I need to step out, for an hour or two each week, of the comfy, little, “I’m the smart girl” box that I have lived in for most of my life.
Notions of self are based on past experiences; the present reality often forces you to readjust your thinking about who you are. Have you been in situations, like mine with the French class, where it became abundantly clear that your vision of who you are doesn’t exactly mesh with your reality?
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