I have only one memory of learning how to read, but it’s a very clear one. I was reading aloud to my kindergarten teacher and I got stuck, yet again, on a word with “ough” in it. I could not for the life of me remember how to make that sound (or rather, sounds, since the ough’s in though and through and thought are all pronounced differently). Phonics were of no use to me with such a complicated combination of letters.
I think that moment became lodged in my long-term memory because of the emotions associated with it. I remember being very aware that my teacher knew this was a problem area for me, and feeling both embarrassed and frustrated that I was having the same trouble over and over again, many times beyond what I perceived to be acceptable. I really didn’t want to disappoint her by not learning what she was teaching, and I really didn’t want to disappoint myself by being anything less than whip-smart.
That memory was called to mind this past week as I struggled, for the millionth time, to properly pronounce euil/oeil/ueil sounds in French. They are my Achilles heel. I cannot for the life of me ever ever ever remember how to pronounce, let alone spell, words like feuille (leaf), accueil (welcome), and oeil (eye), except that there is a general sound of vomiting involved. (It is purely coincidental that I have the most trouble saying the words that I also find the most hideously guttaral.) Every single time I come across a word with one of those crazy mixtures I just say it three different ways back to back and hope that one of them is approximately correct.
My inability to put proper French pronunciation in the vault fills me with the same despair I had as a five year-old. The difference, though, is that as a 36 year-old I can remind myself that I just used the word “though” effortlessly, without a second thought (there it is again!) and have been doing so for three decades. Eventually, if I stick with it, I will do the same for French.
[Photo: Janna Lauren]