So I finally got myself back to a French conversation Meetup for the first time in at least a year. After putting off thinking about it all day, then purposefully making myself late to leave work, feeling nothing but dread walking the six blocks over to the location, and using all my resolve to actually walk through the door, I prayed that the bar would be empty. But nope, a crowd of people were clustered together, chatting away.
Within a matters of seconds I broke into a conversation and everything was fine. The usual self-consciousness that paralyzes my French-speaking brain like a parasitic fungus calmed down after the first few words came out of my mouth, and I felt inexplicably at ease for the rest of the evening. I had thought I’d have to force myself to stay for a half hour, but by the time I left an hour and a half had breezed by without me realizing it.
First I spoke with Dalia, an Arabic teacher who is originally from Palestine but moved here 15 years ago and now lives in New Jersey. She was super impressive because she learned French when she was young, forgot it all, picked it back up and started teaching herself just one year ago – and she was speaking beautifully, like she was fluent. Two good online tools she told me about that I will definitely be checking out in the hopes they can do for me what they did for her: Shared Talk (a free service provided by Rosetta Stone for language chats) and Anki (flashcards for vocab building).
I also had a long conversation with Dykeman, a publisher of books about the South, from which he hails (Tennessee/North Carolina to be a little more exact). Normally I just shoot the shit in French and make banal small talk but we actually covered a lot of interesting ground that I would have been just as happy to chat about in English: he suggested I watch an Antonioni film set in Barcelona (the Passenger), we discussed our angst about contemporary media distribution models, and I was excited to meet someone who knew about the Lost State of Franklin.
All in all an excellent and encouraging evening. I think Duolingo is to thank for getting me out of my habit of translating and thinking through every word before I say it out loud. Sure, when I speak as quickly as I did tonight (which, sadly, is still quite sluggish), my sentences come out sloppy. But on the other hand when I can actually say something without turning bright red, halting and/or reversing course every five seconds, that’s got to be an improvement.
I’m looking forward to going back in a couple of weeks. Which makes it official: facing down fears is my new favorite thing. (Don’t tell that to any roaches.)
(Top photo: Frédéric Bisson. Middle and bottom photo: Me.)