My relationship with French has been a rocky one right from the very beginning. Growing up in the American school system requires you to take a language if you want to pursue an education, but having a learning disability that already makes your native language difficult is a recipe for disaster.
It was recommended that I take American Sign Language, given that those with dyslexia are very visual learners, but the school district didn’t offer it at my high school. I was to either take a foreign language or commute to my local college where they offered ASL. Since I was a student-athlete at the time, the latter wasn’t a time commitment I was willing to make.
I had only three options at my middle school: French, Spanish or Chinese. French seemed terrifying but I knew my family had come from France many years ago and this was an opportunity to learn a little more about my culture.
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It wasn’t an easy start. My lack of confidence in myself made it extremely hard to feel comfortable talking in class, especially in another language. This was something that I would experience in my many years of studying French.
While I could read French perfectly, I struggled with the written work and I couldn’t speak a word during class. At some point, I even had a high school teacher recommend that I shouldn’t continue to the next level, and I believed them. I began comparing myself to others kids in class who could speak it well and tricked myself into thinking I wasn’t made out to learn a language. So, I stopped taking French.
However, in the time I wasn’t taking French, I found myself trying to learn it on my own. I was going at my own pace, converting the language on my phone to French, taking up lessons on Duolingo and listening to French hip/hop and pop genres of music. I realized how much I missed the challenge French brought me and how much I loved learning about a culture. So I ended up taking the next level of French with the same teacher that told me not to continue. Was I great? Most definitely not. But I was actually having fun and appreciating it more.
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Upon entering college, I had to take a language placement test. I ended up doing a lot worse than I anticipated but I saw this as a chance to start over. I could still read in French, but my listening skills were average and I still struggled with writing. This was a chance for me to work on the things I lacked understanding in. Although I was gaining back my confidence, the road was still bumpy. Once I saw how I did on the placement test, I did have my moment of defeat. It was like I was back in high school and my teacher was telling me not to continue. With that thought in mind and determination to prove others wrong, I continued anyway.
It wasn’t until my college French instructor introduced herself to the class and asked us, “How well do you speak English?”, that I realized no one is ever perfect when speaking or writing, even in their native language. It’s never going to be 100% perfect right from the start and it probably never will be.
It has taken me 8 years to feel like I have a solid understanding of the language. What matters the most is the dedication and consistency that has been put in. Taking breaks are helpful and sometimes necessary when something doesn’t feel right. It can only help lead you to the right path. And lastly, communicating with others and speaking out loud, is key. Not only does it improve how you speak and build your confidence but the feedback you receive from others, whether it be praise or criticism, helps guide you and empower you to do better.
"À vaillant coeur rien d’impossible." -Jacques Cœur
“For a valiant heart nothing is impossible.”
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