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  • Judy Schulten

53. Take heart from other mediocre linguists.

It's fun to read about other people's struggles with a second language. Fun, and somehow comforting. I just read Monsieur Mediocre, by John von Sothen, an American married to a French woman, living in Paris with their two French children. Though he continues to study French, lives with three native speakers, and speaks French most of the time, he will never really get it.

One of his problems is, as he says, "I'm not afraid. I'm not one of those Americans embarrassed to talk because they think their French isn't up to snuff. . . . I'm like the bad golfer swinging away, oblivious that his balls are slicing and braining people on the course."

Too, he's lazy about verb conjugation and will use the present tense, adding the phrase that means "in the past," while waving his arm to signal time past. Worst of all, he confesses, "I never wanted to admit I didn't understand. I never asked people to repeat themselves or to just slow down." Instead, he developed a repertoire of facial expressions and meaningless phrases to get him through a conversation. He will press "2" for English when he calls a business.

Laughing at von Sothen's struggles, I recognized that it's all true of me and my Spanish. I love the language and will charge fearlessly ahead with speaking it. Instead of actually improving my knowledge, I use various strategies for participating in conversations and for avoiding tricky grammar traps. I'm proud of my communication ability, but, for important matters, I'll switch to English.

Of course, I will never really get it, but I have fun with my bad Spanish.


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