This essay written by David Sedaris is a walk down memory lane where David tells about his experiences and troubles when he studied French in Paris. The story takes place the first day after the vacation. He moved to Paris with hopes of learning French but it turns out that it was not as easy as he first thought. He only had one month French class before he left the safe hometown of New York. The school is an international school where all kinds of nationalities and languages are gathered but where French is the only language allowed to be spoken. David´s limited ability to speak French makes him very nervous. Further, it only makes it worse when the rest of the students speak what sounds like perfect French to him just with some different accents. It proves that confidence plays a significant role when you communicate and speak in a foreign language. He feels everyone else speaks perfect French and he is one of the few who is not able to do the same. The school is barely started and he already begins to feel like an outsider.
Everybody at the school is expected to perform from day one where there will be no mercy. That’s the way it works. It is as David described with figurative words “It´s everybody into the language pool, sink or swim”. It is a rapid way for the teacher to see how the students perform. The class begins and the teacher walks in. From now on the teacher is judging every move and every mistake. You get the impression that this teacher is tough and also a little bit evil. The teacher asks the students one by one which things they like and which they dislike. A student called Anna is asked and answers that she hates mosquitos. The teacher is quick and respond with sarcasm “Oh really, how interesting. I thought that everyone loved the mosquito….” This illustrates pretty much how the teacher’s personality is. She isn’t a sweetheart who thinks the students need some good care and help because they are unsecure in the French language. She is more old-school and teach according to the old saying “you learn from your mistakes” she nearly pushes the students to make errors and then point them out. It seems insensitive and cruel but the method may works David later describes, again with a metaphor: “She hadn’t yet punched anyone, but it seemed wise to
protect ourselves against the inevitable” what can be interpreted as the students starts thinking in French even though they´re not the persons who are being asked. The students are becoming afraid of her with her sarcasm, rough tone and the way she keeps attacking even when the slightest mistake is made. Another student whose name also is Anna was asked the same question about which things she loved and which she hated. Obviously, she was a little bit nervous after having watched her classmates being humiliated by the teacher.
Besides that Anna is insecure in French like the rest of the class and limited in terms of vocabulary. This makes her appear more foolish than she really is because she has complications in expressing herself. That part is the most important and interesting in relation to the theme: Language is power. Another example is that people change if they feel uncomfortable and can´t communicate as much as they want to. David says: “Before beginning school, there´d be no shutting me up, but now I was convinced that everything I said was wrong” this shows a big change in his behavior only because he is afraid his French is so bad that the rest of the class can´t understand him. As already mentioned, a person´s personality can change if (s)he´s not able to communicate in a foreign language. David is maybe able to understand a big part of what is being said but understanding and speaking a language doesn’t necessary go hand in hand. There is a big difference between the two things. Understanding is just a small step to speaking a language fluently. If you don’t speak a foreign language in another country this might result in an identity which seems completely diverse from the truth. That is exactly what happened to David. His insecurity gave him an identity he maybe didn’t like. This identity didn’t show the real David. Perhaps the other students considered him as a quiet and boring person just because of his lack of confidence in speaking the language. I think the purpose of this essay is to discuss the subject language. The essay was published in 2000. David Sedaris tried to bring this subject to debate in a time where the globalization brings every nation closer to each other and therefore needs a way to communicate. It was a current theme in 2000 and still is today in 2013. China is growing bigger and is historically not speaking anything else but Chinese. In my opinion this big country needs a way to communicate other than their mother tongue as they play an essential role in the international trade. Besides that the subject is relevant to my age as a student in Gymnasium. Pupils in Denmark begin to learn English in 3th grade and later you will be given the opportunity to choose German or French and Spanish. This makes the students able to communicate with, if not the rest of the world, then a huge part of the globe. This opens up the world and gives a lot of possibilities.
Courtney from Study Moose
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