No More Pencils, No More Books (and a hearty thanks to Nico Malik!)

About six months ago, I arrived in France.  And I thought, “Oh merde!  How am I going to learn all this ce, c’est, ca va stuff?”  Then I learned that the French government was going to offer me classes on my rights as an immigrant, various other civics topics, and most importantly, classes on how to speak their language.  Free.  Free French classes.  SWEET!

If there’s one thing I love, it’s learning.  Actually, it would be my wife.  Second would be computers.  Third would be art…  so if there are FOUR things I love, the fourth would be learning.

I remember back when I started my classes, the biggest question in my mind was as follows: “Will the teacher be Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller, or Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam?”.  Obviously, having a pulse, I crossed my fingers for the latter.

Enter: This guy in the picture.  This is Nicolas Malik, my French teacher, and this picture is lifted straight from his Facebook profile (sorry Nicolas – if it’s a problem I’ll replace it with something else 😛 ).  Despite the bowtie in the picture, he’s much more Robin Williams than Ben Stein.  When the mostly Arabic students start gossiping in Arabic, he feigns sneezing and sniffling and chalks it up to his being allergic to Arabic.  When a marker leaked on his hands, he dropped the marker and fell to his knees, in the middle of class, looking to the sky with a most pitiable look.

But what’s more important than (and perhaps because of) his ability to engage us and keep us all laughing and interested is the fact that he’s a very good teacher.  When I arrived in his class, my method of conversing with the French was to sit down, shut up, and pray to whatever deity that I could walk away with the gist of the conversation.  In other words, my method of conversing was not to.

Now, about three months later, after having studied countless newspaper articles, incredibly faded textbook copies, and listening to pre-recorded conversations from language CD’s, radiocasts, and TV programs, I am pretty capable of understanding, making myself understood, and arguing my point – those that know me well will know that the last is important to me :D.  Unfortunately Nic doesn’t get to see too much of that because I tend to abuse his near-fluency in English.

In any case, thanks in part to his fine tutelage, I can now function in French society.  I have a job where I (obviously) speak French all the time, excepting Rafael who likes to talk to me in English just because he can.  I can go down to the local government office and get myself signed up for my health insurance.  I can ask for assistance from locals, shopkeepers, etc.  Granted, I still have trouble understanding sometimes, and I still need to ask people to repeat themselves, sometimes 3 or 4 times, and I fear I shall never be seen as eloquent, it works.  I can survive.

I’m writing about all this because, sadly, tomorrow is my last day in this class.  I’ve done my time, and the idea is that I’m now ready to be released into the world (or at least France).  I worry that my French is not where it needs to be, but I’m sure that if I continue studying on my own, and keep practicing, I’ll be able to quickly build my skills into near-fluency.

If only there was an advanced class (compared to this one), also free of charge, that I could move to, instead of just stopping classes altogether…  oh wait, there is.  In fact, they’ve just formed it, and after it was recommended to me, I of course jumped on it.  After I’ve gained so much from the first one, how could I turn down a second one?

My starting date for that class is as yet undetermined, and sadly, it won’t be Nicolas teaching it.  But still, combine that with daily practice and a good grounding in the basics of the language, and I’ll soon be talking up a storm in French.

Who knows?  Maybe soon this will be a bilingual blog…


2 thoughts on “No More Pencils, No More Books (and a hearty thanks to Nico Malik!)

  1. I remember you asking for a German curriculum for Christmas a few years back. I love that you love learning.

    I took 3 years of Spanish in high school, live in a neighborhood that has been dubbed “the northern tip of Denver’s little Mexico” or so I’m told, and the best I can do is understand sporadic phrases. You should have seen me at our first (and only) yard sale, haggling with people through their kids while trying to look the parents in the eye and translate the best I could. I want to learn more. You’ve inspired me. Merci! 🙂

    • Niki,
      Glad to hear it! It helps to HAVE to speak the language to do anything outside the house or even watch TV.

      Yeah, I asked for some German language materials, and I even learned some, but then I gave up in embarrassment after my girlfriend at the time (now my wife, and FLUENT in German) kept making fun of my pronunciation.

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