A Firm Ball of Clay or a Funnel of Marbles?
We’re really, really enjoying learning French! We’ve seen some practical steps in the right direction and we’re feeling encouraged! (Although we are still looking at the mountain of fluency and feeling like it will take us forever to get there… baby steps!)
As we’ve mentioned before, Jack and I both did a bit of language study on our own before coming to Switzerland. Jack, my ridiculously smart linguist, tested into the B1 level after one week here. I, on the other hand, was thankful for at least a base of “memory pegs” on which to hang new information. Our classes have been 100% in French since the first day, so I’m incredibly thankful for the information I had already learned.
But, even after months of learning French at home, I stepped out of “review” and into “new information” on the second Tuesday of class. Everything I’d covered at home was taught in the first six days of classes. It truly is an intensive course! But, it’s so well done and the teachers are incredible. When we don’t understand vocabulary or a grammar concept, they explain it multiple ways in French, act it out, or draw pictures until we understand. They never explain anything in English, which is good for many reasons, but especially because there are people in our classes who don’t speak English either. It brings an equal learning opportunity, whether our first language is English, Turkish, Polish, German, or Spanish. (Yep, those are all first languages in our classes!)
Here’s how I imagine what’s going on in my brain…
I imagine that all the French vocabulary and grammar concepts are in my brain as a hard ball of clay… it’s definitely there, but it’s so tough and unusable. Each day, as we talk in class and I interact with people at the store, school, or on the train, I’m warming up the ball of clay and making it more malleable. It’s definitely a process, but I can feel it happening! Every day on my train ride home, I overhear someone use a word or grammar concept that I just learned about. It happens every. single. day. The more I hear it used, the closer I come to being able to use it!
It’s a humbling experience to try and be wrong… over and over again. But, I’m getting used to it. I see the bigger picture. And most of the people here are SO kind and patient!
I love these mental images to explain how I feel or think, so here’s another one that we use with our kids a lot…
I imagine that my brain is small and has a small funnel on top. Every day, as I go to class or have a choppy conversation, or read a French picture book, I’m scooping up marbles (French vocabulary or grammar concepts) and pouring them into my funnel. One or two may go in, many get backed up in the funnel to settle in later, and lots fall on the ground to be picked up later. No problem. Tomorrow, I’ll put another scoop in the funnel. Over time, my brain and funnel get bigger - allowing more marbles to go in and fewer to fall on the ground. Some may need to fall on the ground many times before they actually get in. And that’s okay. My capacity for language learning is growing and our ability to celebrate our family’s little “marble” wins is so encouraging!
We tell the kids that even if they only learn one new French word today, that’s great! Tomorrow, we’ll learn another!
Here are some of our “wins”:
The first few weeks of church here, we listened to the sermon all in French and we were able to pick out some words that we understood - and that was perfect for us in that moment! But now, even after only a few weeks of classes, we listen to the sermons and pick out the words we don’t understand. We’re hearing the way the sentences are constructed and can hear the individual words that we don’t know… and that’s a step in the right direction!
We regularly host our small group since we have kids and want to be able to be involved. We LOVE getting to know people from church in that way! Our small group is so patient with us, as each meeting has been in French - at our speed. They involve us well and we’ve had some really good conversations, even though our contributions are choppy and poorly constructed. It’s been so encouraging, though, to be united in something - someONE - who transcends language. This is the power of the Gospel and Scripture!
Lucy (Lucille, as she is called here) had her 9th birthday last week! Our sweet social butterfly invited all the girls in her class and in our apartment building to come for a party to celebrate. None of the girls speak English, and we had a blast with them! We wrote invitations in French, collected RSVP’s in French, and hosted the party all in French. Jack was the emcee and handled most of the group announcements, game instructions, and craft directions. We had cupcakes and sang “Joyeux Anniversaire!”
At the end of the party, one of the girls pulled me aside to ask me a question. I was having a really hard time understanding what she was saying. She asked me multiple times in multiple ways until I finally understood, “Are you the one who made the cupcakes?” — “Yes, I did!” — “They were very, very good!” She went so far out of her way to make sure that she communicated that to me. These sweet, sweet girls are answers to our prayers for Lucy!
Lucy and Titus have both joined soccer teams here in town and they love playing! They each have friends from school on their team and it has given them even more French language practice! Aside from all the benefits on this side of Africa, I’m SO EXCITED that this will give our kids a bit of confidence to go out and play soccer with kids in Côte d’Ivoire!
Lucy and I went shopping after school today to choose a gift for a girl in her class whose birthday party is coming up. On our way home, we had a conversation about how we’re getting used to public transportation. We took a bus from home to a train station in another town, then a train to the main train station, then another bus to the store… followed by another conglomeration of buses and trains to get home. If you had told me a month ago that I’d feel competent to do that without Jack ever, I would have had a hard time believing you! But, here we are, with a new normal.
Lucy made a good point today. “Everything you did when you were a baby is what feels normal to you. Everyone has different things that feel normal for them. They’re not wrong, they’re just different.” So, so true. I love that we’re having these conversations with our kids. I love that they’re seeing other ways that people do life.
Some things that didn’t used to be “normal” now feel “normal”. But some things are just the same as they’ve always been!