ANGERS: Finally Getting The Hang Of It

It’s that time of year again: I just finished up my advising meeting for the fall semester.

That means that there’s not much time left in this semester. In fact, I only have three Mondays left in my semester abroad.

I’m not sure where all the time went, but I’d love to have a lot more of it.

It shocks me how comfortable I’ve become here, how settled I am into the dull tasks of everyday life here, how little desire I have to return.

Probably the most surprising fact is how quickly I’ve managed to pick up the language. I am by no means fluent—in fact I would not even say that I’m proficient—but I find myself understanding more and more of the conversation around me without even realizing it.

Just a few weeks ago, I was on a train back to Angers from the Charles de Gaulle airport, and I was able to converse with the women around me.

Usually, I am quiet on the train — everyone typically is. So it was strange to hear the three women around me, who were strangers to each other, chatting.

I tried to focus on writing in my travel journal—I was trying to catch up from all my Austrian adventures—but I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation.

I focused really hard on what they were saying, while trying to remain inconspicuous.

The woman two seats to the right of me was originally from Algeria but lives in Nantes. She has five kids. She speaks French and Arabic.

At that point, my eyes lit up. I can’t speak French that well, but Arabic? Now that I can do.

The next time we made eye contact, she smiled at me and said something in French. I responded in Arabic. She looked a little surprised but not disappointed in the least.

At the beginning of the train ride, the lady across from me had asked me something in French and I responded with always awkward “ahhhhh,” a shrug of the shoulders and wide, uncomprehending eyes. Once she heard me speak with the Algerian woman, though, she took notice.

After I had gone back to writing in my journal, I heard her and the mouse-like woman next to her start talking about me.

I looked up again, and when we made eye contact they asked, “Espanol? Espanol??”

“Uh… no,” I said, with a giggle.

“Chili??” they tried again.

I figured they wouldn’t stop guessing Spanish-speaking countries, so I decided to cut the guessing game short.

I responded nervously, “Non, haha. Uh…. l’Arab? Palestine?”

They reacted with an “aaaaaaah,” as if that was at the tip of their tongue the whole time.

At this point I had gained a little more confidence. I figured I had nothing to lose when speaking French. Even if I totally butchered my sentences, I would never see these women again.

“Uh…” I began. J’étudie à Angers à l’UCO, but je suis du Texas. Je parle l’anglais et l’arabe and j’étudie français aussi.

They smile and nodded approvingly, even with my sprinkling of English words. The French are really not as mean as everyone warned me that they would be.

I giggled nervously. Je parle français un peu. Je veux…uh.. to practice.

They seemed so happy that an American wanted to learn their language and that I was really trying and not just going through the motions to get through my semester.

I was beaming with joy when I got off the train. I only hope that I can continue to be confident and practice my conversational French more. Taking French class helps, but a large part of the learning is immersing yourself in the real world of the language. I’ll miss that so much when I come back.