Good morning/afternoon/evening, depending on what time zone you are in while reading this – my blog has now been read on every continent (except Antarctica), so thank you for following my journey! I’m not exactly sure how this post got so long, although it probably has to do with the fact that I’m getting less and less conscientious of blogging often, and I’m sorry to say there aren’t too many pictures this time, but here you go: my updates and musings…
On Pursuing a Career in French Theatre
I have a variety of electives at school, one of them being Théâtre. The objective of this class is to train us to think on our feet and to improve our speaking skills. When learning a new language, you have two vocabularies: the first, your stored vocabulary, is all the words you know, the second, your working vocabulary, is all the words you use.* Just because I know that the word craindre means “to fear” doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve ever used it; naturally I’d be more inclined to say avoir peur (which also means “to be scared”). So in this class, we play improv games to make our brains tap into our stored vocabulary. For example, one game requires us to stand in a circle and “throw” a word to someone else. That next person then has to say an associated word. If he or she can’t think of anything, if the word doesn’t really have an association to the last word said, or if the word has already been said then that person is out. (My friend Sheila from Hong Kong always wins!) Another improv activity consists of two people acting out a scene, and after about a minute someone in the class must clap to “freeze” the scene, then taking over one of the actor’s positions and starting an entirely new scene. The only rules of the class are not to say the forbidden words: non, pardon, excusez-moi. In an improv scene, an actor must always assume what the other person said is correct; if he says he’s a ninja, he is a ninja, and you can’t say, “Non, tu n’es pas un ninja, tu es mon frère!” And my teacher, Frederic, always says that an actor should never excuse himself. He really challenges us and puts us on the spot, which at first was very difficult but has ultimately helped me immensely improve, and now when he asks me to think of a random word or phrase, I don’t have any trouble.
We sometimes put on spectacles (closest English translation: performance) for the host families or for other students at EF. The warm-ups we do beforehand to get into mode française even includes the same one we used in high school (obviously translated into French), which made me laugh the first time we did it; I guess some things are the same no matter where you go in the world. Anyway, we put on a performance last Thursday, the first time in front of other EF students, and although I expected to be really embarrassed, I actually had so much fun. It’s actually pretty nerve wracking, and there are only about 6 of us who participate so we are each really in the spotlight for the 20 minutes we perform. Imagine improvising in front of a crowd in your native language…now imagine doing the same thing in a language you’re still learning. The experience really brings us closer as friends since we’re all stressing together! Ultimately, it’s extremely rewarding…maybe I should even consider pursuing a career in French theatre.
*I take full credit for creating these terms. You can quote me.
Une Soirée à Se Souvenir
Before I came to Paris, there were 11 EF students staying in my host family in addition to the 5 out of 6 members of the family who also live in the house, forming a total of 16 people in the one home (or so I’ve been told). At the moment, there are only five of us, but the number changes every few weeks as girls move in and out. Since one student is going home to Sweden next weekend after three months here in Paris, I’m switching host families in January**, and it is almost the holidays, we planned a little party Saturday night. After eating dinner together in the dining room, we exchanged our Secret Santa gifts, ate candy, and played a board game called Dixit, similar to Apples to Apples.
It’s pretty amazing to think how this seemingly random group of people from all over the world somehow found ourselves together around one table in this dining room, laughing and eating and playing games, when we just as easily could have passed through our lives without ever meeting one another. Do you ever wonder how many people you’ve met by chance who have changed your life and what it would’ve been like if you’d just as easily never met them at all? Or do you ever wonder about all those people who you never did meet and who you never will meet, your lives passing each other like two moving trains, not stopping to regard the other but continuing on in their intended directions, and how, if only, chance had brought you together how different your life might be today? Why is it some people enter our lives while others never touch us? Maybe I’m just weird, but sometimes these thoughts hit me while I’m waiting for the metro or walking down the street or most often when I’m driving on a highway looking into the windows of cars speeding by; I’ll catch someone’s gaze and suddenly the thought will pop into my head, and I’ll wonder who all these people around me really are and what stories they carry.
**I’m switching host families solely due to location. I live in Zone 4 (urban Paris is basically Zones 1 and 2), so not only is my Navigo pass 35€ more per month, but also going into Paris is always such a big deal. I can’t just hop on the metro whenever I want to because I need to take the RER (the train service), and many times if I miss a train, I’ll have to wait 20-30 minutes for the next one. And if anyone remembers one of my first “vocabulaire quotidiens”, supprimé, the train is too often canceled. I absolutely detest the RER, although I’ve heard my line (C) is the worst of all. On the other hand, I love my host family, and it’s amazing sharing a home with half a dozen girls from all over the world, where often our only possible means of communication is speaking French. So I’ll be sad to leave my host family in January but very glad to leave Saint Gratien.
Maybe I shouldn’t pursue a career in French theatre after all…
They say some of the most important parts in learning a language are reading books, listening to music, and watching movies in that language. At least that’s what most people who have learned a second language tell me…and while I understand this idea in theory, I don’t fully understand it in practice. My question is when does that start working? I tried to watch Les Choristes last week, but every time I didn’t understand something (so basically like every other minute), I would rewind it and listen to the quick remarks over and over until the words became clearer. After an hour and a half, I was only a third of the way through, and I’m ashamed to say that I gave up. I’ve also seen two movies in French at the cinema: Interstellar (never see a Christopher Nolan film in a foreign language, they’re confusing enough in English) and Hunger Games (easier to understand since nothing really happened). And I do attempt reading in French, but unless I have my phone to translate the words I don’t know, I get too frustrated. In fact, even with the translator I get frustrated!
Don’t get the wrong idea; my French is definitely improving, but the reading and listening is still a challenge. Frederic invited some students from EF to accompany him to a theatre show last night, telling us it would be a great way to improve our comprehension skills, and also because why not? The show took place in a small room, fitting maybe 30 people, and consisted of about 20 short, individual scenes, some funny, others serious, some I understood, others I completely failed to grasp. The best part for me was the very last vignette, which we had actually acted out in my theatre class a few weeks ago…at least that one I understood pretty well! And tonight I went to another spectacle, a one-man show written by and starring Frederic, who always encourages EF students to come. As I’m used to his voice and his manner of speaking, I was able to understand more than Monday night…and by more I mean maybe a third of what he said. These performances are really cool, and it’s funny how I’ve now been twice in Paris but never in New York. The small room creates a intimate atmosphere, making the audience really feel part of what is happening on stage. I truly hope that I can post here in 5 months from now saying I went to a performance and understood all that was said. But for now…maybe I shouldn’t pursue a career in French theatre after all.