Well, I started learning French in school at age 11 because it was compulsory. I continued to GCSE because I was good at it; to A-level because I was entertaining romantic notions of living in Paris; and to degree level because I could see the sense in studying Linguistics and a foreign language in tandem. It's strange though, I still don't feel as though I can Speak French. Not really. I've never spent longer than a month in France (or any Francophone country) as I never became the adult my teenage self thought I would, sitting in cafes watching the sunlight on the Seine, my hair falling stylishly out of its chignon, the table before me spread with leather-bound notebooks, a citron presse and the remains of my lunchtime croque monsieur, probably wearing a Breton top for good measure and waiting for the tres dashing Jean-Luc to come and pick me up in his vintage Citroen.
|Croque madame: un or une? The jury's out, mais c'est|
delicieux/euse quand meme
As to how I learnt French...I struggle to remember, which has been a source of frustration since my CELTA back in 2003. Why has the language from the first few years stuck in my mind so very, very clearly? Was it the novelty? Did we do communicative activities? I have vague recollections of pair work, but stronger ones of substitution drills and spelling tests. Did Madame Kevan and Monsieur Steele conduct the classes in French or English? I really couldn't say.
Post-school, I once again ignored my own advice to read widely in the target language and study little and often, and passed all my degree assignments only by sitting in front of my laptop until 03:00 every night for a week before the deadline, my hand lingering on my well-worn Collins Robert. One truly memorable experience of my degree however was a summer school in Caen which I adored and now realise was essentially a week of dogme - each member of the class created a character for themselves as a resident of a block of flats, and the week's activities were based around interactions between the residents (gossip, confrontations and so on). It's something I'd love to replicate with a group of students if and when I have one again.
Could I gossip in French now? Definitely not. Could I write an essay? - maybe, with a dictionary and with great difficulty. If I went to live in a Francophone country, would the vocabulary of ten years' study all come flooding back? I have no idea. Which does make me wonder: have I really 'learnt' French at all? What does it mean to know a language?