I am learning French.
I can remember a time, probably when I was in high school, when I had no desire to ever go to France. I thought Italy, Spain and Ireland were the places I wanted to be, and I couldn't really understand why people would ever go to France. I bought into the stereotype of French snobbery, I thought the food sounded disgusting (escargot? frog legs?), and I figured I wouldn't be able to communicate because the French hated to speak English.
In 2009 I went to visit Kate and Richard and decided I should really go see Paris. It was just a train ride away, and I wanted to see a new country. I was sold within minutes of stepping outside of the Metro. I knew two days would not be enough.
Once I moved to London I visited Paris three more times – once for my 30th birthday, once for a half marathon, and once for Bastille Day. Each time I visited favorite locations and discovered new places. And each time I travelled with people who were either fluent in or had at least passing knowledge of French. It was fantastic, and although not necessary (as I found quickly that if I simply asked in French if someone spoke English, they were usually fluent and quite happy to converse in my native tongue), seemed very, very cool.
This fall I'll be returning to Paris (and hopefully visiting areas of France that are new to me), this time with Austin, who has about the same level of French knowledge as I: namely, a couple of verses from pop songs, and some food vocabulary (cafe au lait! croissant! escargot!).
So, a decision was made: to try to learn some French. Austin did the research, and found Fluenz, this fantastic language software. It's great for many reasons, and in my experience is much better than Rosetta Stone. You actually need to practice pronunciation, and sentence construction, and spelling. Exercises include typing what you hear, typing in French what you read in English, and matching French phrases to their English translations. Each lesson is about 60-90 minutes, and includes one basic conversation, 10 minutes of explanation, and another 45-60 minutes of exercises. The software can be installed on multiple computers, so I have it on my laptop and Austin has it on his computer, meaning we can complete lessons together or on our own. There's also an accompanying CD, which I hope to start listening to soon.
The plan is to complete levels one and two before we leave for our trip. We have to complete two lessons a week to do that, and I think we can manage it. We've completed five lessons, and so far I feel comfortable ordering food and drink, exchanging pleasantries, saying I don't want something, and working with the verbs 'to want' and 'to be'. It's really encouraging. I can't believe I might actually be able to learn a new language!