“Immersion is the best and easiest way to learn a foreign language,” everyone says. This may be true in the long run, but in the short term it’s madness. You have to battle anxiety just to take a walk around the neighborhood for fear that someone might speak to you. Clearly this opinion is espoused by people who either have an unhealthy amount of self-confidence, or have never done it. Now yes, I listened to my CDs relentlessly before coming, and I thought that I knew enough to get around, but in real life no one speaks like they do on language CDs. Hearing a woman repeat the word ‘l’appartement’ 50 times with perfect enunciation does nothing for me when I hear people use it in conversation. Last week, we had a maid come to clean our ‘appartement’ and she and I had so much trouble understanding each other that I eventually went to google-translate and typed my question in and showed it to her. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
So when I arrived at my Boucher’s yesterday and he began peppering me with questions I was, understandably, unnerved. I froze, my palms sweating, my mind racing. Please God, don’t let me be the disappointing foreigner (insert: American) who hasn’t bothered to learn the language! Desperately I searched my mind trying to pick up a word or two out of the sentences that I understood so that I could figure out what he was asking me (note: I would like to thank my Elementary School teachers for enforcing the importance of context clues upon me). Then, like the sun from behind the clouds, recognition dawned in my brain: he wanted to know how long I had been here. By some miracle, I answered…perfectly. He understood me and continued with the questions until we had completed a civil and relatively informative conversation. YES!
“Okay,” you might be thinking. “You spoke to your butcher; that’s totally amazing.” (eye roll)
Well. It is.
This is one of the great things about traveling and moving overseas that no one ever tells you about and which I am finding even more true when there is a language barrier: you get to become a child again (in the best sense, not in the ‘people telling you what to do all the time’ sense). Managing to accomplish little tasks is a big deal and feels amazing! When you have just moved to a new country and you are figuring things out, everything is a triumph. When you figure out how to open your bank account or set up your cell phone; you feel impressed with yourself. You may have lived in a large and complicated city back home, you may have street smarts, but the first time you navigate the subway or tram system in your new town you will give yourself a pat on the back. When a stranger asks you for directions and you can give them you will feel oh-so-cool. And yes, the first time you manage to understand what someone is saying and how to respond to them you will feel like skipping all the way home.
It’s a beautiful reminder that travel gives you; the reminder to appreciate yourself and your ability to adapt and learn things. The reminder to challenge yourself, come what may! As a child we have these moments all the time; every new thing we learn fills us with a sense of pride and elation at our own ability to have accomplished something. And why should that ever change?
So, merci Monsieur Boucher, I appreciate the gentle reminder…oh and the caillettes were good too!