“[French], Motherfuckers! Do You Speak It?”
by Charlotte E. Wilde
“Einstein once said ‘If you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, he will live his whole life believing he is stupid,’ and I think we can all agree, that guy had it pretty together, n’est-ce pas?”
A collective eyebrow shot skyward.
“I mean to say, some of you are going to truly suck at this. Some of your weird little brains will refuse to grasp the concept of conjugation, or masculine/feminine, or just not be able to stomach two different words for “to know” and some of you won’t hear a.single.word.I.say. all semester.”
They nodded along, little ears perked and twitching, like ponies.
“Some others of you will be amazing, it will open the doors of your eyes and change your worlds. Some of you, but not most of you. Some of you are fish, some of you are squirrels, some of you…hard to say, des petits bêtes qui n’exist même pas dans la vraie vie.”
One kid tittered with laughter. I think it was polite, or nervous, but they sat on, shuffling feet and wandering eyes.
Every semester starts like this, every semester I open with somebody-or-other’s wise words, something to soak their little paws in before I try to tilt their heads and funnel verbs into their ears like stuffing somany Christmas geese. I wish someone had explained to me the impossibility of being heard above the din, maybe I would have taken a different path.
Or perhaps someone did try to say this to me and I wasn’t listening, too busy trying to figure out how to scale bark with fins. It turns out, you clearly canteach a fish to climb (as evidenced). It won’t be easy but it can be done, and that fish, no matter how successful, will still live it’s whole life believing it is stupid. Maybe that’s what enables me to try to teach.
The view from the other side of the desk is a surreal one. I’ve no fucking clue what I’m doing up here, just swimming or climbing as needed with whatever wonky gills and scaly fingers I’ve got to work with— all hearts stapled to sleeves and stary eyed optimism to battle the jaded color of a room-temperature powerpoint (because I find the cliches give better traction). That’s all I ask from them in return.
“It’s a weird world, and sometimes you have to muddle through with what you’ve got” I affirmed, attempting to recapture their attention.
“Please turn to page two of your Syllabus. Absences: No absences will be excused without a note from the student health…”
We trudge on. The wah.wah.wah of my voice sounds like Charlie-Browning even to me. I do realize the frivolity of hoping to leave some lasting impression about the ways we learn and think on a bunch of gulping undergrad’s desperate for language requirement’s allure of little-learned, but that never stops me. Poking the creatures behind the bars at the zoo like some asshole kid on a field trip, hoping against hope for some response to let me know they’re aware of the actual human-not-robot standing at the front of the room.
Nothing is forthcoming. As always, beyond the banalities of “Bonjour, je m’appelle” I will have to trust that the experience speaks for itself. In college as in life, you can only hear the whispers in the wee hours of some forlorn morning when you’ve the good fortune to stumble headlong into the perfect combination of sleep-deprevation and caffeine consumption and forget to hit pause on the youtube video that starts to play after the one you were actually looking for.
Which may be a weird way of looking at it, but really, pretty true.
Some of us are fish.
Happy climbing and welcome to French 101.