Monday, August 20, 2012

In My Quest to Remain Tri-Lingual...

One of my life goals is to be able to speak the Romance languages. As it is, to date, I speak three languages, two of which are Romance languages: English, Spanish and French. Even if I never meet the goal of learning Italian, Portuguese and Romanian, I'd like to retain my tri-lingual talent instead of having it bite the dust.

Thanks to living in a Latino-megalopolis like Miami, I am confident that my Spanish-speaking abilities remain fluent and the only things that I truly need to brush up on are where to place accent marks on syllables and how to conjugate verbs with "vosotros" instead of "nosotros" and remember that "vos" is equivalent to "usted." Perhaps, as a means to make my Spanish more authentic, I should consider changing my relatively standard American accent to sound more Cuban when I speak in English.

Hm. Maybe not.

As for my French language skills...well, much like my cartooning skills, they've diminished. More specifically, my ability to carry a conversation fluently has atrophied.

I came about this realization when I discovered my new cell phone's capacity to record. Like any curious individual faced with technology, I tried it out the recording function and spoke to my phone in French.

A few words in and I was at a loss of vocabulary. I found myself grasping in the back of my memory to remember basic words like enregistrer (to record) and avoir quitté (to have left). No one in my area speaks French so it shouldn't have come as a total surprise to me. And yet, my little francophile self was very, very alarmed by the egregious change.

I am certain that my reading and oral comprehension have remained on a similar level and that, thanks to the recording, my pronunciation hasn't worsened; that in itself is an achievement when I consider that fact that I live in an area that is predominantly non-French-speaking.

Still, I am not one to give up without a fight. If I needed to raise my level to my former francophone glory, then so be it. I began to re-watch some of my favorite, albeit depressive, French movies to refine my oral comprehension...

...which had the inevitable side-effect of tugging at my heartstrings and warping my general worldview. 

Getting a bit fed up with having my tear ducts drained every time I re-watched Au Revoir Les Enfants and Les Choristes and wondering why the best French films never had particularly happy endings, I decided to embark on another pedagogic strategy. With the help of French Trainer Barb (who is totally different from regular Trainer Barb), I delved into a different strategy of coaxing the hidden vocabulary by stating basic sentences that described the things I saw.

If I made a mistake, French Trainer Barb would waste no time in correcting me.

*Ah, ah, ah. The "douchebag" insult doesn't exist in French. One would say "a cretin" or "an idiot" instead.

*In fact, the French word for "douchebag" is (literally) "a vaginal pear." (I am so not making this up.)

French Trainer Barb also recommended that I listen to great French music, like Daft Punk.

Yes, listening to Daft Punk and watching movies in a foreign language are a couple of  methods of maintaining fluency; reading is also a good one. However, the best way of performing the upkeep would be to, of course, face a real world situation in which I face the throngs of needing to fend for myself in a foreign country, a.k.a., immersion. A good example of immersion would be to return to France and thrust myself once again into a French-speaking world.

Which is exactly what I am going to do.

Last month, I got an e-mail that had been filtered into my Spam box. It was from a French high school principal who had kept my résumé when I had sent it to his school in early 2011. He offered me a job to teach both English and Spanish full-time for the upcoming school year in the Loire Valley. He wanted to schedule an interview with me via Skype, if I was interested.

I said I was interested. I had the heart-stopping interview on Skype. And I got the job.

After more than a year of being unemployed, someone out there in Croissant-and-Baguette Land realized that I was a valuable two-for-one deal that shouldn't be passed up. It could not have come at a better time, too.

For all intents and purposes, I am, technically, employed. I have signed the job contract and the Direction Départementale du Travail, de l'Emploi et de la Formation Professionnelle  (DDTEFP) have given me their blessing and given my contract a literal seal of approval. The French consulate in Miami processed the visa application and I am now the proud owner of a shiny sticker (the third one in my current passport). All that's left for me to do is to pack a 50-pound suitcase and board a couple of planes on Wednesday, the first one connecting to Boston before heading over to CDG-Roissy.

Now that I am employed with a French job, that means that once I have integrated with French life, I will have to inevitably deal with being buried under a mountain of photocopies, applications, photocopies, signed pages, photocopies and passport-sized photographs. I'm also running out of passport-sized photos for my applications. I knew that the Famous French Paperwork and I would become BFFs soon enough.

And in case any of you are wondering: yes, I am a bit nervous about this prospect of teaching both English and Spanish full-time. In fact, I'm also stricken by the paralyzing thoughts of "what the Hell have you gotten yourself into/you have no idea what the eff you're doing."

Yet amid my worries and temporary feelings of insecurity, I am far more excited by the fact that I was the best (possibly only) candidate for the job and I gladly welcome a chance to have my life go in another direction. In France, no less! I can only imagine the eye candy that will be captured on my little Canon camera throughout the next year. So, dear readers, expect future posts featuring croissants, baguettes, cheeses, châteaux, wines and horses.

Yes, that's right. I said horses. Lots and lots of horses.

Here's a cartoon of a horse.

I clearly need more practice at drawing them on Microsoft Paint.

Barb the French Bean


To anyone who is currently down in the dumps in life, I beg of you to hold out a little longer. As cheesy at it sounds, things will turn around for the better when you least expect them to do so. In the meantime, keep your chin up and remain hopeful at seeing a brighter moment in your future.




  1. OH MY GOOD GOD! Congrats!
    Enjoy your work in France. Wasn't your desire to re-learn French a kind of prediction...

  2. Huge congratulations. That's great news.

  3. Well done! I hope everything goes well for you and that you gorge yourself on various cheeses.

    As for Daft Punk, it may be awesome, but it doesn't teach you much actual French. In fact, it mainly teaches you repetitive English phrases.

  4. This is most glorious news :D As long as you keep blogging :P You can tell us all about the french life and the kids. I am really glad for you though, either way :) Congratulations on getting such a dream job (for you anyway) and I know you're going to love it.

  5. I am so happy for you! I have to check my inbox. There could be something there for me from someone in England. Maybe not, but if I pray enough, a minor god could be listening to me, and he will work his little miracle.

  6. Alas and alack, I am still trying to learn English. Good luck to you and keep writing!

  7. Congratulations!
    I know exactly what you mean: I used to be super fluent at French at school. Then I left and there was nobody to practise it with and I've forgotten most of it. I try to retain it with french novels and movies but it won't be the same again :(

    By the way, I am teaching English to three kids now, and creating my own resources and lesson plans. I'm sharing them online so if you ever find yourself in need of fun ideas, visit it:

  8. CONGRATS!! But please don't start writing post in French or Spanish. Hehehe

  9. That is amazing! Congratulations, that sounds like a dream job in a lovely part of France! Look forward to keeping up-to-date on your journey.

  10. Congratulations! I know people who would kill to land a job in France.

    Also, cretin is okay, but it doesn't have the same ring as douchebag. Or vaginal pear, for that matter.

    Oh, and about your comment today. Funny you mention that, because my heritage is actually Spanish (Spain, not Mexico. I don't know why people always confuse that).

  11. I was about to suggest some happier French cinematic fare (Le Concert!!!), but woah! Looks like you won't be needing it anymore!

    FÉLICITATIONS ma belle!!! Bravo pour avoir décroché ce boulot, et COURAGE!!! You'll do fine teaching both English and Spanish I'm sure!

    Let me know if your holidays send you south of the Pyrénées! ;o)

    Felicidades de nuevo, mucha suerte y ¡¡¡BUEN VIAJE!!!

    (PS: and yes it's tough to maintain a decent level of trilingüalism, I put in a lot of effort to maintain my French... basically by keeping in touch with my French/Belgian friends via e-mails/phone/skype and visiting them as often as possible! It does help when you're on the same continent though...) :p

  12. Holy smokes! Congratulations to you!!!! I am so super happy for you, Barb!! I cannot believe it was in your spam box - thank God you found it - I wish you well and safe travels!!!!

  13. Very happy for you!!!

    SO jealous and I intend to come visit!

  14. I know I have told you many times, but I am very happy you are going back to France. It brings so much joy to me to see you this happy! I cannot wait to see the pictures!

    Btw, I like the drawing of the horse :D


  15. Congratulations. I hope you aren't as bad at Spanish as me. I keep saying I am a sharpener instead of I have a sharpener! Last year I had French then Spanish class one after the other and that was really confusing! :P x

  16. During my last semester in college, I found out from my everso helpful advisor that I needed to take an advanced French course. After not taking a French class for a year and a half, I almost dropped out (not really), but I figured I'd at least give it a go. Well, apparently all the French I thought I'd forgotten came right back to me. So I guess the brain is great at retaining knowledge!

    Anyway, congrats on venturing back to France!

  17. Congratulations. We'll have the European welcome back party ready.

  18. this post is very interesting and easy to read .... I hope to visit again

  19. I'm SO excited for you that you have returned to France!! Way to go!! :D Also, as much as I've slacked in writing my own blog, I'm slacked with reading yours. And I missed it. So I'm happy I checked in again to hear your wonderful story of going back to France! Anyway...Happy! That's all. :)


Apparently, leaving comments on this blog is a hit-or-miss game of Russian roulette: you are either lucky and can comment away, or you are required to log in when the settings are CLEARLY set to allow trouble-free commenting (sorry 'bout that, folks). If anything, the Facebook page is always a viable option. :) -Barb