Translation in progress

Je… je...,” I stared at the ceiling, paused for a moment and then shook my head. “Sorry, I don’t know.”

Learning French is extremely difficult for me or — learning language in general is a challenge for me. As a native Indonesian, I studied English for a good 10 years and have lived in two English-speaking countries, Canada and the United States. But still, at times, I struggle to find the right words.

Several people have asked how I feel about learning French because first, I’m learning the language using English and English isn’t my first language, and second, my first language, Bahasa Indonesia, uses totally different grammar and sentence structure than the European languages or English.

Sometimes, I find myself translating things from French to English and then from English to Indonesian. When it finally clicks in my brain, everyone else is already on to the next thing.

My teacher probably has used up all the patience he will have in his entire life by having a student like me. In class, I’m the girl with the thick eyeglasses staring blankly at the white board when he asks a question. When I’m able to say anything it’s usually: Répétez, mm… s’il vous plaît.

After several failed attempts to form a word other than je (“I” in English), I gave up. It was frustrating seeing my classmates nodding their heads in unison to indicate they understood while I was the only person who shook my head sideways.

I am trying so hard to learn French because I remember when I came to the point where I could begin to communicate with my American classmates. Although many times I spoke with broken and imperfect English, at least people knew what I said. I still remember the moment in my life when I struggled to differentiate the sound of “three” and “tree.” I tilted my head to the side when someone spoke English to me and had a horrified look on my face when my English teacher asked me to write something in English in front of everyone. Now, I am in the same exact same situation with French.

Today, at a bakery near ALFMED I asked for a fourchette, a fork. The lady who worked at the bakery heard how I butchered her sophisticated language and she corrected my Indonesianized French. Despite that, I was actually pretty proud of myself.

Fourchette was actually the second meaningful French word I used to communicate with people. Yesterday, I used my first French word other than merci and au revoir. I asked for l’addition, the check. I’m already wondering about the next French word that will come out of my mouth. Who knows?