Remember those clicks I told you I always listen for?
Still uncertain as to whether France was the right country for my next move, I signed up for online French lessons. Not all that useful, sadly. It’s a great course, but there are two main problems.
1) I don’t have the discipline for independent study. I start out with great enthusiasm, and then the novelty wears off or I get distracted by some other new interest, and before I know it weeks have passed and I haven’t so much as looked at my lessons. I need an actual, physically present teacher at a regular class to keep me motivated. It’s the fear of failure/embarrassment combined with my natural competitiveness/desire to please that spurs me on and forces me to sit down and study in preparation for the next class. It’s the same with guitar – I could easily teach myself just as much as I get from my teacher, what with the wealth of information available online. But would I? No. The guitar would eventually sit in a corner, dejectedly gathering dust, were it not for my knowledge that come Thursday, I have to prove to my teacher that I’ve been practising.
2) Studying a language online doesn’t help me in the area I find most difficult: conversation. I can manage easily in French if it’s in written form. But put a real live French person in front of me, jabbering away and expecting me to respond, and I freeze. Not a clue. The words “Uh, parlez-vous anglais?” are only seconds away. No amount of studying can replace face-to-face conversation. Damn. Let’s be honest, I’m not even all that comfortable conversing in English!
So anyway, I was trying my best with the online material, and privately wondering how on earth I was going to cope if I landed a job in France and was expected to not only socialise using the language, but also teach in it, when Terri bounded into my classroom one morning in great excitement.
You will not believe where I ended up last night, by complete accident! she exclaimed. It seems she had stumbled across an Alliance Française – an organisation with offices around the world, with the purpose of teaching the French language and providing information about French culture. In such an ethnically homogenous country as Korea, where people rarely travel further than the next city, it’s a surprise that there’s one here. Never mind that it’s in my city, which is neither huge nor touristy. And the fact that it’s in my neighbourhood (as in literally just a short stroll down the road from my apartment!) makes it even more incredible!
Terri furnished me with names and email addresses, and I found myself at a 2-hour class today. It’s so surreal. You speak in Korean to the people outside as you ask if anyone can point you to the building you’re looking for. Then you go through the doors and suddenly you’re in France. The posters on the wall, the newspapers and magazines on the coffee tables, the people at the reception desk… everything you see and hear is in French. I was a little surprised at how utterly terrified I was about uttering the first “bonjour” after almost two years of “annyeonghaseyo”s. It felt alien and unfamiliar, even though my French is huge vast gaping distances better than my Korean. I walked into the Intermediate class (the teacher insisted that, from my email, the Advanced class would serve me better, but I refer you back to point number 2, above!) and was instantly confused about how to greet the one Korean student already there.
“Annyeonghaseyo?” I said eventually, followed immediately by “Hello!” and finally “Bonjour!” We laughed, and quickly found that speaking French was the easiest way for us to chat. I repeat: so surreal!
And I loved it. The class (only five students) was at the perfect level for me, testing me on long-forgotten grammar, and pushing me to participate in conversations on interesting topics without going completely over my head. The teacher (a French girl) spoke only in French, with no Korean or English allowed. It brought back that guilty feeling of “I really need to start being more patient and understanding with my students”, but after an hour or so my brain began to adjust from Korean mode to French mode, and I found that I was able to join in with the others and concentrate almost as much on what I wanted to say as how exactly I was going to say it.
There’s something about language learning that thrills me. I’ve been disappointed in my various attempts to learn Korean, and it was just fantastic to be able to talk in a foreign language with some confidence and understanding. Not only that, but it reawakened the passion I’ve had since I was a child for France, the language, and all things French.
Next stop, France? Mais oui!