Getting into the Pool
As I think about our French studies over the past year and look ahead to our 8-week adventure in France which begins tomorrow, it occurs to me that the way in which my husband and I approach learning the language is very much akin to how we go about getting into a swimming pool. Norman is inclined to just jump in all at once and swim. This is how he speaks French. He’s not afraid to just go for it. It’s exactly the philosophy I use when I’m teaching Spanish to my students so they won’t struggle like I did. I want them to try to speak Spanish all the time even if it’s only in bits and pieces with a few English words thrown in. I want them to avoid the incredibly long period I spent learning to speak Spanish as opposed to memorizing vocabulary, understanding the grammar, and learning how to read and write it which I favored and was really good at accomplishing. However, this is contrary to the way one learns his/her native tongue. Babies immediately begin to mimic what they hear and with repetition, quickly become successful enough to express their desires and build relationships through simple but intelligible communication. This manner of acquiring language is totally natural and logical and should be the method employed in any language class. It’s the concept behind immersion programs where native speakers from two languages are mixed together in the same classroom so they can learn from each other. Of course, this works especially well at a young age when children have no inhibitions — often a problem for teens and adults.
When I get into the pool, I prefer to take it one step at a time, literally… wading into the shallow end slowly step by step, getting used to the water temperature little by little, descending the last step to stand on the bottom of the pool, getting wet up to my waist, walking across to the other side where I plan to start my laps, sinking up to my shoulders, swimming the first lap with my face out of the water, then, finally, getting completely wet and down to the business of swimming my 20 laps. Even though I’m an excellent swimmer, have taught swimming, and lifeguarded, I still need to become acclimated to the water temperature every time. Once I get used to it, I always wish I had just jumped in from the beginning because it takes so much time to finally get busy swimming those laps and there’s actually much less suffering involved. Unfortunately, this process is identical to my efforts at relearning French. I’m not very good at practicing what I preach. So I am hoping that, at some point in the next 8 weeks, I can get past that initial hesitation and just try to speak French no matter how limited I am or what I sound like. For a life-long introvert like me, this is a big challenge but one I am motivated to take on in order to achieve what I want in the next phase of my life. En français, s’il vous plaît!