This is my last week of French classes, for now at least. I was supposed to be finished last week, but I decided to enroll in another week to round it up to a four-week lesson. Reflecting on how much I've learned in four weeks, I really feel like I've come a long way. I've still got SO much further to go, but I'm more confident in a few of my skills, and I think I've increased the overall versatility of my speech. But, as I said before, I've got a long ways to go.
I still can't fully express myself in French - or even mostly express myself. I find I'm constantly asking how to say something or another in French and repeating the same words or phrases over and over. Many times, midway through a thought that I can't quite get across, I stop and decide to cut myself off for fear of saying the wrong thing or sounding stupid. I know it's all part of the learning process, but it's an exhausting feeling to be defeated each and every day by a language that makes no sense. I found some consolation today in class when a girl who has command of Portuguese, Spanish and English told me of her frustrations with learning the French language. Those seated next to us were also in agreement that the language is so complex and completely taxing. I mentioned that when I was living in Italy, I would find myself dreaming in Italian, thinking in Italian and feeling the language; conversely, it's never been like that for me with French. Sure, I studied Italian for a few semesters, but I never practiced, never listened to Italian radio or watched Italian TV on a daily basis, and I don't ever remember thinking of it as such a laborious subject. What I do recall is feeling like I was meant to speak the language, like it was somewhere in me all along, just waiting to be brought to life. I don't have that same feeling with French.
After class today, I found myself dreaming about moving away from France to Italy or Spain. I don't think that's something Gui and I would ever really do without a really good reason, but it was nice to think of how much easier life might be if I could live in a foreign country and be able to speak the language with comfort and confidence, working and enjoying my life as an "insider" rather than someone trying to figure it out. Then, I could really start my life there - do real work instead of going to school to learn how to read and write and talk; I could do so many things that I dream of doing here, like volunteering and taking music lessons, but instead I find there's always that black cloud of non-fluency looming over, reminding me of my below-par skill set.
I really hope (and plan) to one day master the language enough to get a job and converse freely with friends and family, but I don't imagine that will be anytime soon. A week from Friday, we have my carte de sejour meeting at the prefecture where I believe they'll assess my skill level (or send me somewhere to do that) to determine if language classes will be needed and if so, how much. It's part of this new integration contract they're implementing throughout France. I'm all for getting 200-400 hours of free language classes, and I want nothing more than to find my passion for French like I found for Italian. Yet, some part of me still yearns for the easy way, for a way to bypass months ( if not years) of language classes just to get to the point that I was at eight months ago (geesh! I've been jobless for eight months, who in the world is going to hire me?!). Sometimes I feel like I'm going backwards or not going at all, and it worries me to ponder where my professional life and personal ambitions will be in a year. All I hope is that I'm not still sitting in a class with the same folks trying to figure out how to politely say, "may I please have a baguette and a chocolate eclair?"