I have written a lot on Twitter about spending time learning French.
This year, as part of a personal challenge (and also being in lockdown), I figured it was high time for me to get back into French with a vengeance. The last time I had any formal education was back in 1981-1985 so you can imagine that I was pretty rusty.
Some people asked me, “why bother? Why learn a new language when you can just pick up your phone and use the translating services?”
Or alternatively, “Why are you learning something where you have to invest in it daily to maintain it? Isn’t it a waste of money and time when you can be learning something else that you can use immediately?”
They’re missing the point entirely.
To learn a language is to immerse yourself into the culture, the history, the traditions, the customs, the people and their (pardon the French), “raison d’etre”. To learn a language is to accept that you’re going to have this in your life for a long time. You need long term commitment. You also need to be prepared to fail as well as put yourself into situations where you feel awkward, shy, lose confidence and basically feel that you’re going backwards.
For me, the French language has always been in my blood. Its been something I’ve always wanted to learn – even though the Parisians may be a bit standoffish or arrogant, I don’t let this worry me. I’ve seen enough people – not just French – who exclaim with utter delight when people who aren’t natives, take the time to learn the language.
I think it’s the form of highest respect if you can learn someone else’s language because it puts you immediately into the position of being the one who has to be open to learning new experiences, being empathetic and coming to terms that it’s not all about you. You also gain a perspective that goes beyond just your own restricted view.
So learning French this year for me has been an utterly humbling – and a humiliating – experience. I’ve had to put myself out there feeling anxious when speaking with native speakers that I’ve butchered their language.
I’ve also had some hissy fits when I see that I’m not learning as fast as I could or I can’t recall words – or if I put my words in the sentence incorrectly.
In some way, I feel that learning a language this year has made me realise and feel the highs and lows when it comes to the Learning Process. We don’t usually pay attention to it in our every day life: we learn something new, we apply it to our work directly, we move on. Job done.
This is something else entirely.
Learning something as difficult as this means you’re going to go through some radical transformation. Initially it’s going to be very difficult because you’ll come across as the naive one. Where in English you could string a sentence that awed listeners because of your command of the English language, instead, you spit out some few words in the language that just doesn’t do the picture in your head justice. You feel stunted because you can’t express yourself – so you close up.
But you can’t close up and that’s the point. Learning a language FORCES you to be uncomfortable every time and you got to love the discomfort even though it shits you no end.
Part of me wishes I could just transport myself over to France and just live there for a year or two so that I could just learn the language fluently and be done with the continual and daily practice that I need to maintain it.
Recently I realised that I really need to speak it a lot more.
I have been chatting with different people in my field and this year met so many French people (delightful!) however, I’m always concerned at the back of my mind that I could be wasting their time. I feel better if there’s an exchange of some sort – I teach you French, you teach me English however, as many in my field are English speakers anyway, it was getting hard to find someone to chat with.
In comes iTalki.
If you don’t already know it but there are TONS of language learning resources online. TONS.
However I found iTalki through one of the YouTubers and explored the site.
Think about it like the AirBnB of Language Learning. You scroll through the myriads of professional and community tutors of your preferred language, listen to their short introduction then book a time with them in their calendar. You get some trial lessons for $5US for 30 minutes which is a great introduction to choose your preferred teacher.
From there, at the allocated time and date and if your tutor accepts your booking, you meet with them in the iTalki Classroom (or you can use Google Hangouts or Skype) and then chit chat.
You can decide if you like the teacher so you can rate them at the end of the lesson (and they rate you as a student).
It’s a no fuss, simple and easy way to get more conversation in your language each week. After my initial trial, I was so impressed with it that I just put in $50 in credit and now using it up with conversations.
I’m also now thinking if it’s even worth my while doing formal classes anymore when the cost of a term at a course will give me anyway from 15-30 chat sessions. Community Tutors are usually cheaper than Professional Teachers.
If you’re interested in learning a language and you need people to speak it with, then look into iTalki.
If you would like to have access, let me know and I can send you a friend request so that we can get discounts!