As of International Education Week’s start, I have officially been in Canada for eight weeks and the winter winds are picking up. I still love walking outside but the streets are less full, the shops have pulled their street wears inside and have folded up their summer eating patios. I am still trying to learn french, reminding myself often that my goal was to be fluent in French after my year here. When I first moved here, that seemed like a monumental task and it still does. After 10 weeks here, I am still encountering many words and phrases I don’t know. When I have to ask someone to repeat themselves, I often feel like I have hardly learned anything.
However, having my family visit showed me how much I have learned. I realized I had been telling myself that the parts of the language I understood were just the simple parts that everyone knows and I had been selling myself short when, actually, I am understanding (simple) phrases of another language.
I love looking at the names of all the fruits and vegetables and expanding my vocabulary at the grocery store. But when I am feeling particularly brave, I try to start a conversation with my grocers.
One night, I realized I needed some food for breakfast and needed to stop on the way home from my night class. The cashier was a young man, maybe a high schooler, who looked a little somber. I thought, okay, I will try to practice… “Comment ca va?” How are you doing? Immediately he brightened and with a smile, he responded “Bien, merci, et vous?” Well, thank you, and you?” He said it so fast I hardly comprehended it and as he stood there expectantly *meanwhile I am trying to get my fruit into my reusable grocery bag without squashing my bananas* I responded with, “Ca va bien, merci,” I’m doing well, thank you. Then he handed me my receipt, just like that it was over and he waved me away, happily wishing me a good night.
Lately, at the Epicerie down the street, a very kind cashier has been having conversations with me. She talks clearly so I understand her words. She adds a “Parfait!” to the beginnings of her sentences to tell me I am responding well. These small interactions make my day. Even if I use my English, it’s positive interaction and I am starting to count that as a success.
Learning a language is teaching me about confidence, the importance of being a little uncomfortable, and celebrating the small victories. It has also reminded me how important individual interactions are. How we live every day here in the city, shoulder to shoulder with other people and seldom hold conversations with them. The goal of learning French has helped me talk to strangers in a way that has made my new city a little less wild and random, a little more like home.