Languages@Muhlenberg.edu
Newsletter 2002
 
Daily Life from Senegal to France:
Living the French Language
 

When the plane touched down in Marseilles, my fingers were drumming rapidly on my knees. My excitement was now almost completely buried within the ball of nerves that had lodged itself in my throat, and for the first time, I noticed that most of the people around me were not speaking English. I summoned up all my courage; my feet walked me through the hallway that bridged the airplane to the airport, and I peered through the glass window separating passengers from their families. My eyes scanned the crowd for the family with which I would be living for the next 4 months of my life and finally came to rest on an 11-year old girl with brown eyes. She held a sign with my name.

From time to time during my semester abroad, I would think back to this day, when the world of possibility seemed too scary to wrap my brain around. I never cease to be amazed at the amount of confidence I gained through that experience. I continued my courageous streak throughout the rest of my semester, taking weekend trips alone to Paris, talking to strangers on the bus rides home, and joining local clubs to fill up my dwindling free time. I banished qualms about my accent and my somewhat restricted vocabulary and focused on getting words out. Though I may have bumbled my way through more conversations than I can count, each exchange of words propelled me towards one of my main goals in France: fluency.

My mother called every Sunday. On hearing her voice, my brain would swap sides, like a record player flipping over a 45, and I was once again in English mode. Every once in a while I would mutter oui to agree with something she was saying. I'm not sure who was more shocked, she or I, that my brain had unconsciously switched to French! I began thinking, dreaming, and making to-do lists in French. Speaking English became harder, as I would sometimes have to search for English words that truly conveyed what I wanted to say. At that point, I knew that I had been successful at what I had wanted to achieve. I had stopped treating French as a textbook language and had started living in it. My enthusiasm and bravery allowed me to conquer the land of the French language and reside there, not only physically, but mentally as well.

Jen Epting, '03