Mind Your Language!

Every Tuesday and Thursday we meet for a commonly loved time, ‘special class’ for foreigners who do not know the first thing about French (a common identity that is constantly reinforced by Parisians who are rarely shy to point out how dim you come across for not speaking the language).

Well, to be fair, our ‘French for dummies’ course is more appropriately called “French level 0”, but we know that “level 0” is code for names that are not nice to call other people.

Well, so we trudge along in the small, wee hours of the morning (by student standards 8 am is the dead of night). And in the midst of both our interior dimness and darkness without, it always dawns upon us that it’s not too bad after all, being in “level 0” French. There are several beauties of being a dummy. You learn the language at 8 am and get to unleash your newly acquired few sentences on irritable shop attendants and other employees in the service industry.

To top it all off, the French-language learning process also serves a distinctly moralistic function. Being there always turns into a goldsmith’s furnace that forges our oversized egos into well formed, modest souls as we are brutally faced with the horrid levels of our ignorance.Twice a week we are reduced to nothing and reminded of how much we don’t know about French. This is how character has been formed throughout the ages.

This morning, however, as I was sitting in class it occurred to me: we are a French class version of that old Brit comedy, “Mind Your Language’ and in that moment I developed a new empathy for the French teacher. If we are anything like that Classic TV depiction – what horror tempered with humour it must be – ah, the joys of learning a language at an obscenely old age.