Recently, I have been toying with the possibility of changing my Facebook relationship status to, “It’s complicated.” With whom, you may ask? With French. That’s whom!
You see, I am deep into my second semester of a Master’s in Conference Interpreting. The past five months have been…well…hard! And at the top of my Fear List is my love-hate relationship with French. French and I are in a power struggle. French is winning.
French has spent years nagging me to soften my accent. I comply, only to be told that my syntax is lacking. I have sat for countless hours learning to conjugate an infinite number of irregular verbs… only to be told that my prepositions are less than attractive.
French assigns gender to every one of its nouns. According to the internet ( French Nouns Gender, to be exact), 80% of French nouns can be determined by their ending. That leaves 20%! Plus, the exceptions to the rules make me dizzy. For example, the ending –age can be masculine (le mariage, un age), or feminine (la page). And then there are the prepositions! Don’t get me started on the prepositions.
French baffles me, eludes me, teases me and, let’s be frank, French scares me.
And there is the magic word: fear. Fear is what I’m really here to talk about. French is a symptom—Fear is the cause.
Personally, I think it’s about time we had a frank conversation about our fears. Since I can’t expect you to take me seriously without first being honest with you, I’m going first.
Here are my top three fears, in order:
- My language skills will never be good enough
- My interpreting skills will never be good enough
- My skills will someday be good enough, but it won’t matter, because my field will be replaced by Artificial Intelligence.
There you go. I said them. Those are my fears. And I mean it; these things scare me. No matter how often I repeat, if there’s a will, there’s a way; no matter the evidence to the contrary regarding my abilities; no matter how much I work to overcome obstacles…these fears will always be a part of me. And if Fear is yelling at me every time I try to conjugate a verb in French, it’s no wonder sometimes the stress is overwhelming.
So, I have to learn to make friends with Fear. Together, we’re learning to be nicer to me. It turns out that it’s easier to learn things when Fear is sitting next to you holding your hand, instead of offering a constant whisper of, you’re not good enough. And it turns out that, if you’re really willing to look at your Fear, you can make that whisper stop. Fear just wants to be heard, and then it will let you keep trying to pursue that big scary thing you want so bad.
I have a plan now to make friends with all my Fears at the same time. I’m working to integrate my language skills into my day, not through lists and plans but by watching and listening to Spanish shows I enjoy. By reading books in French that I like. By speaking without second guessing myself.
I’m working to relax and slow down. Ironically, by going slower, I learn more. French starts to be a willing partner once Fear is on my side.
I’m learning to incorporate extra practice when I can, and not beat myself up when I don’t.
I’m learning to take time away from my language to do other things.
I’m learning to look at my fears and say, yes, I might not succeed…but what if I do? Basically, Fear is still there—it’s just not in charge anymore.
(And I’m just going to ignore the question of artificial intelligence for now…)
And there you have it. My complicated relationship with French, it is really about making friends with Fear.
And what about you? What are you scared of? And most importantly, what do you plan to do about it?
(Also published on http://www.najit.org/blog on March 1st, 2019)