I’ve become friends with my French teacher from last month (I’ve now moved up to the next class), and am greatly enjoying the whole socialising-in-French thing.
I can’t quite explain why I love French so much. I always have. At school, the French teachers liked me because I really, really, really wanted to learn. My third form French teacher found out that I was crazy about The X Files, and bless him, faithfully taped each week’s dubbed episode for me from a French TV channel, so I could combine my two passions – The X Files and French! He cut out articles about the show from French magazines, and engaged me in conversation about it as much as he could, just to encourage me to practice speaking. He was great.
By the time I was in Sixth Form, I could speak French fairly well, and was one of a small handful of students who chose the language as an A-level subject. It was intensive, and hard work, but unlike with my other two subjects, it never felt like work to me. I simply loved it, that was all. I enjoyed writing essays in French about French novels. I loved chatting to the language assistants. I even delighted in studying the grammar. I read French novels and plays for pleasure. My teacher pushed me harder and harder, seeing my passion for the language – he gave me extra, more challenging work to do, and I did it cheerfully. (Yes, I was that student!)
So anyway, I suppose I’d forgotten the delight I took in speaking French, over the years of not speaking it or hearing it at all. Being suddenly plunged into 2-hour classes several times a week, as well as real conversation in social settings at the weekend, has brought it all back. And the fact that I’m in Korea, speaking French, tickles me for some reason! I’m nowhere near as confident or as good as I was when I was 18, but the regular practice has brought my listening skills back up to speed, and I’m sure the ability to speak (without every other word being “uhhh…”, I mean) will follow eventually. I may even be able to pronounce words containing the letter ‘r’ without sounding like I’m choking on a hairball, one day.
Anyway, on Friday Lucy and I went for dinner at a Korean BBQ place, which was a huge mistake given that the last thing I need on a hot summer’s evening is a bucket of white-hot charcoal on the table. Sweating profusely and frantically fanning yourself, when it takes every inch of your concentration to follow someone chattering in French in a very full, very noisy Korean restaurant is not easy, let me tell you. But only in Korea, then again, have I experienced girls wandering in from the street with baskets full of little ice packs, cheerfully distributing them (free) to everyone in the restaurant who looks too hot, and then leaving without a word! You had to punch the plastic package a few times until something popped, and suddenly it became freezing cold to touch. All around the restaurant, people were frantically punching away, and then sighing in relief as they put the ice packs to their foreheads. Just one of those little moments I love!
We ended up in the Mojito Bar (not really its name, but it’s the only place in Daejeon that knows how to make my favourite drink properly), drinking cocktails with folk I’d never met before – and switching to English for their benefit, to my aching brain’s relief. The barmaid gave me a “take-away mojito” when it was suddenly decided that we were going back to Lucy’s apartment. I have never in my life heard of anyone getting a take-away mojito, but I must say I’m a fan of the concept. You will never feel classier than when you are skipping merrily through the streets at one in the morning sipping rum through a neon pink straw from a plastic cup, let me tell you!
We encountered Lucy’s neighbour, “Ken”, on the way in, and he got swept along with us. Ken (his ‘English name’, not his real name) is a Korean English teacher who – I soon discovered – cannot speak English. This is a fairly common phenomenon, worryingly enough. But anyway, he seemed a pleasant sort of fella and was also able to miraculously produce a box of hot fried chicken seemingly from nowhere as soon as someone mentioned being peckish.
Vodka was consumed. Conversations were going on in a language that wasn’t quite English, or French, or Korean. And then all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, there was a violin and a book of Irish fiddle music.
And you know (for finally, I reach my point), no matter what your reasons for learning a foreign language may be, you just never see a possible result being this: you, sitting in the apartment of people you met less than 2 months ago as if they are old friends, teaching the words of Danny Boy to a Korean English teacher who can’t speak English, while the violinist plays along as if she is in fact an Irish girl in a local bar in Dublin somewhere, and not a French girl in an obscure little city in South Korea.
C’est la vie. Well – mine, anyway. :)