By the time I started high school, I suppose I could have been called bi-lingual—if Pig Latin was an official language, but I entered 9th grade eager to learn French. I was a small-town girl from Upstate New York. No, not just north of Westchester, but waaay Upstate New York, about three miles from the Canadian border and a little over an hour from Montreal. My grandmother, who lived a stone’s throw from my farmhouse, spoke French quite fluently. My father also spoke it, but it was rare when I heard him do so. Usually it was when he was speaking to my grandmother and I was curious to know what they were saying, and looked forward to when I could converse with them in another language. How proud they would be!
Finally, about a week or so after having a few classes under my belt, I decided to wow my father at the supper table. I don’t recall exactly what I said to him in French, but he gave me a curious look and asked what it was I was trying to say. After I translated it for him, he responded, “Oh, they’re teaching you that French.” Apparently, what he and my grandmother were talking was Canadian French. I was being taught something, well, different, as far as they were concerned. After that, I rarely attempted to share what I learned with my father, but went on to take French each year until I graduated high school and did quite well. But then, I never bothered with it after that. Years passed, years where I married, raised three children, started a career in writing, divorced, and worked as a national event specialist in Manhattan. Yet, over those years I kept thinking how much I wanted to get a strong handle on the French language so that when I went to France I would be able to communicate somewhat confidently. I wasn’t sure when I’d be going to France, but not knowing the language was one reason that kept me from making plans to do so.
Late summer of 2001 I made up my mind that enough was enough and I would teach myself. I bought a Living Language French Complete Course three compact disc set and complementary course book, and another four CD set from Instant Immersion, a French dictionary, and a copy of George Orwell’s La ferme des animaux. I was determined to learn. At night, I would stutter my way through Orwell’s classic and try to figure out just what I was reading. It helped, obviously, to be familiar with the story, but I still struggled. It wasn’t going as smoothly or as quickly as I had hoped. Of course, the distraction of going through a divorce and having to sell my home due to the fallout did not help. Yet, I refused to let diversion interrupt my intention. And, on the evening of September 10th, 2001, like the evenings before, I pulled out my discs and books and studied in hopes of having somewhat of a grasp on the language.
It was the last time I did so since.
The biggest disruption of all, not only for me, of course, but for the country, managed to stop what I was attempting to accomplish and it was only after several months that went by when I realized it. Oh, yes, I thought, I’d been trying to learn French. It had seemed a lifetime ago. Still, when I was packing up the contents of my home, I gave away boxes upon boxes of books and CDs, but did not include my French material. Even so, I have no idea if I’ll ever get back to trying to learn the language, but will eventually book that trip and pack along my French dictionary just to be on the safe side.