For most of my life, cities like Paris, Nantes, and Bordeaux were unimaginably far away. Not just in miles, but in culture, language, and history. The family I grew up in liked to travel, but didn’t care much for languages that weren’t English or countries that weren’t the good old U. S of A.
I studied Spanish as part of preparing to teach in California, which made sense to them. But when I started studying French to enjoy our trips to Europe more, their eyes sort of glazed over, as though I were learning how to chat with bumblebees. “They’ll speak English if you just go to the right places,” they said, with a knowing nod, as if other countries were just being stubborn.
When I first met Auntie Bridgett, one of the things we had in common was that we both wanted to learn to speak French. My school district offered discounts on Rosetta Stone, a wonderful online language learning app, and I used it for a year. Then we took a class at Hartnell College, and Shawn Quione made the lessons fun and interactive. We also met our friend Donald, whom we still hold dear.
The semesters ended, classes got canceled, but our French was improving. When we traveled to France, we could order lunch (granted, there were a few misfires) and read the memorial plaques and museum signs.
When we moved to Portland, we thought about attending a French class at Portland Community College, but we kept putting it off. And now we are in shut down.
Enter Duolingo! This free online app has been allowing me to keep learning and practicing French even when there is no way to take a class. It is easy, encouraging, and just repetitive enough to drill things like indirect object pronouns into my thick head. There is a silent mode, so I can practice and not bother anyone, and also a mode to listen to the spoken French.
I have now been practicing for a half hour every day for 155 straight days, and am working my way through the French translation of “Harry Potter et La Coupe de Feu”.
I love being able to keep learning. It is good for my mental and emotional health to struggle a little, as well as plan for a time when we can get on planes and travel again. And maybe the next time I travel to Paris, I can take you with me!