getting back to business

I haven’t had much to say here for awhile, because until a couple of weeks ago, I had all but abandoned my various language pursuits. My French has been withering on the vine for two years, since I left the full-time job that had me both speaking French frequently with West African colleagues and taking weeks-long trips to francophone countries every few months. My Hebrew reached its peak in Israel last year, only to fall off a steep cliff when I abandoned my practice of it promptly upon my return to the States. As for Spanish, I’ve pretty much spoken twenty minutes of it in the past half-decade. I spent a few days in Lima for work last year and attempted to communicate in Spanish at one point and one point only. It became quickly apparent that the language had curled up and hidden away somewhere in my brain. (At least that’s my belief about what happens to language skills upon disuse; I never think languages are lost, just burrowed far from consciousness.)

For probably five years I’ve been saying I need to relaunch my Spanish studies, and for at least a year, I’ve been psyching myself up to get back to speaking French. Finally, as is my wont, I did both at once — despite having tried this before and often twisted my brain into a pretzel.

In October, on a whim, I went to an advanced French conversation group at the library. Because it’s on Wednesday afternoons, it was almost 100% retirees, and me. I was pleased to self-assess myself as firmly belonging in the group (I had worried that I’d be gently kicked out if I was not able to string words together anymore). But soon after the first meeting, I got COVID, and then I went to Oregon for a month, and then the sessions in December were cancelled for the holidays, and then I had an intense job in January and February. So I only really started going on a regular basis this month.

The formula is always the same. We do a round robin in which we all answer a weekly prompt, and then we break up into smaller groups for open-ended conversation. The hour and a half usually passes quickly, and I really like hanging out with a bunch of (mostly) older people shooting the breeze. But it bothers me that while I am still somewhat proficient in French, I have forgotten some really basic words and often have to pause mid-sentence in order to grasp for them. So, a couple of weeks ago I logged into Meetup for the first time in seven years and signed up for every French conversation meetup in NYC. I have only actually gone to one so far. It was the same group that I used to go to in the two years before I left for Senegal. They gather at a different midtown bar now, and there’s mostly a whole new crop of people, but I was happy to see a few familiar faces from way back when (Dykeman’s, for one).

I guess once I got my French back on track I started thinking more seriously about how I could do the same with Spanish. I thought about it for a few weeks, and then I took my Spanish books off the shelf and moved them to the table, and then two weeks later I did one Rosetta Stone remedial lesson, and then two weeks later I picked up the Spanish books from the table and put them into a tote bag, and then a week after that I took the tote bag to a cafe and spent an hour doing exercises from one of the books. Once I broke the seal, it became easier, and I’ve spent an hour or two working through the book every other day or two since. Then, over this past weekend, I decided to go back to the beginning of Destinos and finally watch all fifty-something episodes (I think I got about halfway through last time). As of today, I’m up to episode three…

Later in the weekend, I hung out with my niece and nephew, who have catapulted ahead of me in their Spanish. I asked them questions haltingly (“Qual quieren comer al restaurante?“, for example, took about a minute to say and was/is probably grammatically incorrect anyway). They both answered in Spanish that sped past me so quickly, I could only catch a few words of what either of them said. I’m hugely happy for them — they are well on their way to being bilingual in the way I always wanted to be. But I want to catch up! So hopefully that will be good motivation to stick with my studying.

Finally, as for Hebrew, that’s remained on pause, although my entire Israeli family will be in L.A. in April for my cousin’s daughter’s bat mitzvah, so I’m going to visit them then and hopefully will get a little bit of speaking practice in. My sister and her children will be there, too, and I am so curious and excited to see them interact with their Israeli second cousins. Will they pick up any Hebrew? What will it be? My sister made me laugh out loud a couple of years ago when she told me that one of the only words she still remembers is fleetzah — fart. Appropriate for someone who last spoke Hebrew in junior high.

A little awkward to end on that note, but ça y est. 🤷‍♀️

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