Monday, December 20, 2010

Two classes

Had my last French class on Thursday and my last yoga class on Friday. These 5.5 hours of classes each week were my biggest chance at speaking French. Invaluable because French was the only common language and we were forced to use it. Awkward/comical as it was at times, there was communication going on!

First I have to quickly tell about the back-to-school night for Kadin’s French-as-a-Second-Language class to illustrate how hard it can be to find a situation where you are really forced to speak French. The teacher introduced herself and said she wanted to start by going around and having the parents introduce themselves. We should say our name, where we were from, and who our student was.

I had just re-learned all this introduction stuff in my French class, so I was excited to say “My name is Jenny, I am from the United States,” etc. in French. But the first couple to go asked if they could speak English, they were from Ethiopia. The next couple also spoke English, they were from India. Then the next couple was from Korea, they also spoke English. So did the woman from Poland and the family from Malta etc. etc.

Wow, a veritable United Nations and what is the common language? English. By the time they got to me, I just went ahead and spoke English too.

But this was not the case in my French class. While a few of the students spoke English, most did not. I was the only American and by far the oldest person. The others were mostly Chinese women in their late teens or early 20s, the one male was a young engineering student from Brazil, and the class was rounded out by a Lithuanian woman doing post doctoral research in Grenoble.

When we introduced ourselves, we found out the Chinese women were all only children. I told the Chinese students that I had been to China when I was 10, in 1976. They looked a little shocked and replied, “You were? Well, I wasn’t.” They hadn’t been born yet and there has been so much change in the intervening decades, it was probably ancient history to them.

The Lithuanian woman seemed the closest to my age, so when we were learning the past tense, she was saying “I was born in 19…” and this is a good phrase because you would use être instead of avoir to form the past tense with the verb “to be born,” and then she hesitated, so I chimed in with “soixsante” the start of 60 and 70, thinking that would give her a good 2-decade range in which to be born, but no. She was born in 1980. So that was the person closest to my age. She was 6 when I last took a French class!

And so it went. I was definitely the most willing to make a fool of myself in the class. Also perhaps the one who knew the least French, but I was glad to be a little beyond my ability since I was only here 4 months. I needed to step on the accelerator!

In one class we were learning the different ways to describe periods of time using words like “since” or “during.” We were supposed to answer questions like, “How long have you lived on your own?” “How long have you been drinking alcohol?” “When did you start driving?” “How long have you been voting?” “How long have you been married?” I actually got to answer these questions with the years, as was the plan, but almost everyone else had to reply, “I have never….” Finally, some age and experience pays off!

I loved the class and I will miss it. It often gave me a headache, but my old and ossified brain has stretched a tiny bit.

Yoga class was also an ideal French immersion experience. Iyengar is a topic I know well and the teacher spoke clearly and slowly all about the parts of the body and where to put them. This was great.

The first class, I wasn’t sure what a cerveau was, I thought maybe it was a deer? So I just channeled my inner deer and imagined antlers growing out of my head while lying on the floor. And I learned the word for floor, sol, which is a perfect homophone for a different English word, and the word for ceiling, plafond, which is quite a nice sounding word that you can easily admire.

In this class, I was the youngest. Once again, nobody spoke much English. Each week I would try to carry on a simple conversation with the teacher about Iyengar in France or if she had been to India. Others in the class would engage me briefly before or after and were very kind and patient with my French. I even managed to make a few jokes during class that people seemed to understand.

The biggest difficulty came in Eagle pose when we were supposed to put one arm au dessus and the other arm au dessous and one leg au dessus and the other leg au dessous. Still can’t distinguish between those antonyms and it’s so easy to get tangled up!

I am sad that class has ended too. My body really liked it and my cerveau did too.


George Swain said...

I am so sad that my prefered source of French cultural news will soon be drying up. I have so enjoyed reading about your cross-cultural adventures this fall. It has whet my appetite for travel and made me happy that I'm safe and sound in the comfort of my own home at the same time! Can't wait to see you guys next week!

Dais said...

I really want to know if you were supposed to be channeling your inner deer or something else! While you had antlers, the others had.....? Going to look that up now! ;)