Best French Student Award

by Translation Guy on August 31, 2009

Izzi, my 14 year-old daughter, got to go to France this summer with her best friend (whose Mom is French). She stayed at grand-mère house in Brittany for the month of July for a total Francophone experience. And just a few weeks before, she had been recognized as the best first-year French student in her middle school. A proud moment for her Mom and Dad, but according to Izzi, the beginning of her downfall in France.

Her friend’s Mom was mightily impressed by Izzi’s award, and made a point to mention it when introducing Izzi to friends and family. It really put her new French friends at ease to know Izzi’s French was so good. Of course, as a first-year student in France for the first time, she was really not that good at all, and had a really long time lag to put a few French words together, to say or even understand.

And as any student of language knows, speaking that second language can sometimes feel like performing in a non-stop piano recital. Izzi quickly faded in the spotlight of high French expectations.

And as her new French connections dissolved into silence, Izzi’s embarrassment grew. Eventually she stopped getting introduced as an award-winning French student. “Was this because I was just so obviously bad? Or was it because my friend’s Mom wanted to spare me the torture of pretending to speak French?” Not that it mattered. Embarrassment has a way of shining thru in any situation. Her conclusion: “Being an award-winning student of French was the worst thing that could have happened to me in France.”

My conclusion: language study is a big time sink and can get you into lot of trouble. I never won awards in French, that’s for sure. But now I speak in French with the fluency of a native speaker, along with 149 other languages, and all without cracking a book, and in no time at all. It could not be easier. The secret? To be revealed later.


  1. Mark Jenkins says:

    I have learned two foreign languages in my life: French and Spanish. I learned French in the classroom well enough to be able to communicate before I ever visited a French speaking country. I learned Spanish in a very different way, with a little bit of classroom experience but mostly “on the streets” in Venezuela and Puerto Rico. People sometimes ask me which way is better, learning in a classroom or learning by living in a culture where a language is spoken. My answer is that both ways can work if you want to learn, and if you are patient and persistent.

  2. So long ago…ninth grade French was very difficult for me. I had trouble learning vocabulary and remembering which words were masculine and which were feminine. I spent hours every week with flash cards, and this particular memory strategy, which had been recommended by the teacher, did not work well for me. I recall vividly how my tests and quizzes always came back with red marks around my many mistakes in grammar, accent marks, and the gender of nouns. I agree Ken, what a waste of time!

  3. Mary Swines says:

    It was mandatory here in Canada to study French (our shared first language) up until the ninth grade. I took no language classes in grades eleven and twelve, and did little or nothing in those years to improve or maintain my French. I never came into contact with French speakers, and if I had come into contact with them, I would not have been able to say very much to them. Languages must be maintained or you lose them – they have their place, but you must be immersed on a regular basis…

  4. I visit France twice a year. Here is a list of French idioms in use relatively recently in Paris. I thought you’d like them…French phrase, followed by literal translation, followed by
    (english equivalent):

    Ah la vache!
    Oh, my Cow! (Good God!)

    C’est la fin des haricots.
    It’s the finish of the green beans. (It’s hopeless.)

    Poser un lapin.
    To leave a rabbit. (To stand someone up.)

    Avoir le gueule de bois.
    To have a wooden face. (Have a hangover)

    Faire un tabac.
    Make a tobacco. (Be the toast of the town.)

  5. Johhny M. says:

    I still have quite the “wooden face” from this past weekend! LOL.

  6. Susy Q says:

    149 languages Ken? I’m dying to know how you can learn so many, is it even possible?

  7. Susy Q says:

    Hmm…I guess Ken is going to keep us anxious as I don’t think he likes to reply to anyone on his blog 😉

    • Ken says:

      Of the 150 languages I speak, I only ever studied English, Japanese, Navajo, Spanish, French, Chinese and Turkish, and believe me, I didn’t learn much. My native fluency in all those languages comes from using my telephone interpreters when I want to talk to someone who doesn’t speak English. I’d be lost in translation without my interpreters.

  8. I couldn’t agree more Ken – I hated being forced to study Spanish in high school, what a joke.

  9. JennyJen says:

    I disagree completely. Read this blog entry for a more open and fresh perspective:

    “The Responsibility Of Language” –

    I’d be interested to know what you all think about this side of the story.

  10. Susy Q says:

    He’s ALIIIIIIVE! Thanks for joining the conversation Ken :)

  11. JennyJen says:

    Ken, you mean to tell me that throughout your studies of English, Japanese, Navajo, Spanish, French, Chinese and Turkish that you’ve learned nothing? That the experience was meaningless?

    • Ken says:

      I’ve learned so much. I love languages, and I love to learn them. Speaking Japanese has changed my life and allowed me so many great opportunities.

      Always you meet great people. But if you really want to get to know them, you’ve got to spend a lot of time studying their language, hundreds of hours, and the more, the better. How hard we work to share the experiences of the people we love! Its fun and beautiful. But I’m a sucker for fast and easy.

  12. RyanC says:

    Jenny, I don’t think that Ken is saying that at all here. I don’t mean to put words in his mouth, but I think he is trying to make a point more than anything: the world is shrinking, borders are blurring and we need to speak to people (in their language) with ease. Studying for 5 years simply isn’t an option.

  13. RyanC says:

    EXACTLY :)

  14. Ron says:

    The differences between the European and American varities of say English, Spanish and Portuguese are well-known. Does anybody know how the Canadian and Parisian varieties of French compare? Are they mutually intelligible?

  15. CrazyPierre says:

    The differences between Canadian and standard European French are analogous to the differences between American and British English or the Swedish of Sweden and the Swedish of Finland. They are mutually intelligible but there are some interesting differences.

  16. Markus says:

    “French French” – particularly the so-called “Parisian” variety, sounds uppity and “un peu snob” to French Canadians.

  17. Arul says:

    Think about all of the African languages that get jumbled up together – French is a cinche compared to these…

  18. Eremeeff says:

    Hi there,
    Interesting, I`ll quote it on my site later.
    Thank you

  19. kelley says:

    I learnt Italian by the age of eleven from watching Italian TV – back when there was ony one BW channel available – after three years of constant watching. By the time I walked into high school and till the end of my studies all I ever got were A’s. I learnt English by the same age and to the same level because there were no books in my native language and all I read were books, comics and magazines in English. As far as having a problem with being forced to learn a language, I believe much depends on the teachers and general lack of real interest or appreciation of languages – espescially in North America. French is another matter – even after over ten years of constant study, a full fledged degree and some four years of translating and living in a francophone environment. I still find it … depressingly hard to be really fluent in. Which goes to prove …what?…

    • Ken says:

      Kelley, I think you’ve proved that French is hard. My daughter and I heartily agree. Interest is driven by need, i.e., love, money and Italian supermodels(?!). On the other hand kids failing to learn a language that they will never use is no worse a waste of time than the calculus I failed to learn in HS. (Probably part of the reason I ended up in this business, I suppose.)

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