Thinking Things Through: Learning a second language late in life

Kenneth Palmer

People finest discover a next language at a younger age. That is a properly-known truth. I experienced my likelihood at 5. I blew it.

So listed here I am, 60 many years later on, trying to teach myself French.

C’est une aventure.

I’ve received plenty of baggage for my journey. In that to start with valise is my practical experience at St. Mathieu’s College in Tumble River, Massachusetts, in the early 1960s. I’d begged my mother to send me to college but there was no public kindergarten. So she despatched me to a parochial faculty in the town, where by 5-yr-olds wore uniforms, uncovered cursive and practiced French.

I experienced been hoping for far more Participate in-Doh time. This place was no exciting at all. Many of my classmates previously spoke French at house, earning me feel like a nincompoop. Although my father’s maternal grandparents ended up Québécois, I never ever read my mémère converse French. She even uncovered Portuguese so she could converse with her Brazilian mom-in-legislation.

I was bullied by a suggest lady on the bus trip home, and halfway by way of the year, I created the mumps.

The good thing is, right after that disastrous start out to my training, I spent 6 blissful several years at the Village School, a mile from my property, wherever no language other than English was spoken by pupils or personnel.

Once I entered junior superior, on the other hand, there I was in French class. I felt destined to fail. Having realized about heredity by then, I hoped that genes may depend for a thing. They didn’t. I struggled. I hated it. When it arrived time to decide on a language to examine in large college, I picked Spanish.

And there, to my finish shock, I was a star. My instructor even questioned me to tutor other pupils. Spanish was considerably far more easy in sentence construction, grammar and pronunciation than French.

I was gratified to know I could find out a language soon after all.

In the ensuing several years, ironically, I turned a Francophile, fascinated in French movies, way of life and tradition in general. I’m not certain why, provided my traumatic experiences with the language. I did like listening to it. I was just terrified to communicate it.

Then on the net language-mastering courses became obtainable. So I tried out some French on the Duolingo application. I realized two things. A person, clicking answers, parroting phrases and typing in translations on a keyboard was enjoyable. Two, performing so in the privateness of your have home, where no just one witnesses your problems or horrible accent, made for a anxiety-no cost expertise.

I dabbled with the app, in Spanish as properly, on and off for a number of years. Then previous August, I made the decision to make a determination to mastering French. It assisted that Duolingo retains track of your indicator-ins. When I’d done a streak of 10 days, I was not turning again. As of this producing, I have practiced French just about every day for 152 days, normally for about fifty percent an hour for each working day.

Just one of the to start with items I found was how some of my junior-superior language studying had caught with me. I realized the times of the 7 days and how to count to 20. Most importantly, I remembered how to conjugate the verb avoir (to have). It is an irregular verb, so we should have experienced to discover it by coronary heart in faculty i.e., we recited it endlessly.

That is all I had. Before long I was in the weeds, suffering the very same complications I experienced in 1969. The silent “s” at the stop of words and phrases ongoing to confound. Why is there a “de” in “Je dois acheter de la brioche”? (I have to get a brioche.) I performed demo and mistake with the delicate differences involving the use of the two words for “to know”: connaître and savoir.

Meanwhile, my spouse, Paul, was listening to me.

Now that I was having my language lessons critically, I was carrying out them at the kitchen island, not in the privateness of my examining nook. Paul spoke only French at dwelling before entering Sainte Jeanne D’Arc elementary college in central Massachusetts. There, fifty percent the college day was done in French and 50 percent in English.
He also took French in university, in which he gained a prize for his accomplishments.

In 1995, as a reporter for the Portland newspapers, Paul went to Québec to deal with the secession referendum. He interviewed folks in French and wrote their answers down in English.

Sitting in the residing area and listening to me trying “Avec qui est ce qu’il fait du sport tous les jours” (who does he exercising with just about every day) has been pure torture for him.

Normally he restrains himself from expressing something. Except, that is, he passes via the kitchen area. Then, he’ll say, “Purse your lips. It is a seem that we never have in English.”

That advice can be utilized to a lot more French phrases than I could list listed here.

I do recognize his assist, and even ask for it often, but pronunciation is definitely not my sturdy match. As I like to say, I’m not actually fluent in spoken English.

I have my personal strategies of measuring my achievement, this kind of as it is so considerably. I can seem at the word “oiseux” (birds) without cringing and considering, “What the heck?” I can even pronounce it — one thing like “wahzo,” with the emphasis on the next syllable. If I purse my lips just so, I audio a tiny little bit French. Even Paul claims so.

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