As child growing up in a bilingual country like Canada, I was forced at a young age to learn French. It began in grade 5 and to this day I can still remember the annoyance I felt when French period rolled around. Sure every food item, law and most signs in Canada are written in English and French, but never had I come across someone in B.C. who was a francophone, nor had I ever been in a situation that required me to speak French. I couldn’t understand why I was being forced to learn a language that would have no effect on my life.
As I endured classes from elementary through my senior year in high school, I gradually found myself reading and writing the language quite well and could understand 90% of what was being said to me. My oral skills weren’t as good as my written skill, but I was satisfied that I would be able to get by if need be. I remember having friends who attended French immersion schools and thinking how much it sucked to be them. Not only were they learning history, science, geography, etc in English, but in French as well. No thank you…
Surprisingly, after graduating high school, I found myself enrolling in university French classes. I figured they would be easy credits and would help keep my GPA high. After 2 years of Français at UW, I still wasn’t close to being fluent and eventually decided to drop the French in favor of other subjects.
As the years continued to roll by, I had yet to use my French skills at an advanced level and they slowly began to leave me. It wasn’t until this season that I wished my parents had enrolled me in French immersion and that I was fluent in the language. I always thought it would be cool to be bilingual, but language is difficult and not being surrounded by it and not having to practice it every day makes it tough to retain.
Each year I go abroad, I’m continually reminded of how ignorant I feel sometimes. Most Europeans speak a minimum of 2 languages and Luxembourg is no exception. The majority of the population can speak at least 4 languages. It’s incredible and extremely impressive. If I thought mastering 2 was a feat, these people are on completely different level. Luxembourg has 3 official languages: French, German and Luxembourgish. Aside from these 3, most speak English as well. However, it makes sense, as Luxembourg is such a small country and is surrounded by Germany, Belgium and France. The diversity of people in the city is great and as stated in an earlier blog, thousands of people commute everyday from all 3 countries for work.
I’m lucky in a sense that the laws in Luxembourg (signs, food items, etc) all must be written in French. If there is one thing I know, it’s that I can read French quite well - so I don’t find myself getting lost or confused as much as I have in other countries. (Reading the back of the cereal boxes every morning finally paid off!) In addition, my comprehension is very high. When people speak French around me or to a group, I find myself understanding most of what is being discussed. At first teammates, fans and friends alike were surprised when I answered a question they posed in French. It was funny – they assumed I was like every other American (Canadian) who had played for the team and didn’t understand or care to learn a lick of French. My Belgian teammate does not speak Luxembourgish, so I’ve asked her to speak to me in French whenever we converse. When I respond, she corrects my mistakes. As my confidence improves and pronunciation progresses, I find myself speaking French more and more – whether it’s at the grocery store, coffee shop or with my elderly neighbor who I swear spies on me and makes sure I close the door every time I enter our apartment building ☺. I’m really not that good, but everyone has been so complementary when I greet them in French and answer their simple questions. By the end of the season, I’m hoping that I’ll have enough French, that I’ll be able to have a real conversation with a Luxembourgian or my friend from Montreal (get ready Liz!)
French is a beautiful language, one I hope I’ll eventually be able to master – but I’m not sure I see that happening. I’ve talked with one of our supporters about taking French courses while here and plan on enrolling in a class that begins in January. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to meet a sweet talking Frenchman that will make conversation that much easier!
Basketball Update: Last weekend we won a must win game to keep us in the top 6 of our league. In December, the top 6 teams move and continue playing for the championship, while the bottom 6 play out and fight to stay in the first division. Yesterday we played a cup game and managed a hard fought victory over a team Basket Esch had lost to before I arrived. Sunday we play another must win game. Last night was a very physical game – especially inside. I felt pretty beat up today, so the plan is to take care of the body these next couple days and prepare for the big game this weekend.