Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart by William Alexander


Learning a new language can be tricky (and funny), especially so if you attempt to do so as an adult. Granted it is easier for some people than for others but different personalities approach the task from their own unique perspectives. William Alexander is very much an adult. One who is in love with all things French and who is determined to conquer both the language, as well as the art of "being" French. His approach to the task at hand is methodical, analytical. So where does he start? With the Association for Applied Linguistics "naturally." His initial findings seem to confirm what many hold to be true: that our ability to learn a new language decreases with age. And William Alexander is 57 years young.

Though passionate about his goal, our author seems to get easily distracted by his curiosity about all elements of studying a new language. So while he struggles with conjugation and adult memory not being what it once was he samples different forms of language study. Short trips to the country itself, the "Bible" of language learning that is Rosetta Stone, conversation groups, immersion courses, french pen pals, you name it William Alexander tries to try them all. In an adorably self-deprecating way he shares with the reader not only his linguistic misadventures but also his insights into French culture, history of the language (French, as well as English at times) and its vocabulary.

I expected to be entertained and amused but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of learning I experienced while reading this book. Not only is my French vocabulary richer but I learned a lot about linguistics, neural and memory processes involved in learning a language, as well as what it is exactly that the Académie Française does. William (and his French alter ego Guy) present a story of one man's journey into depths of a foreign language but this book ends up being about so much more than just learning French. Is there such a thing as "too late" when it comes to learning a new language? You'll just have to read the book to find out.

I received a copy of this book from <i>LIbraryThing Early Reviwers</i>. As those who've read my reviews in the past know, that in no way influences my opinion of the book.

And just so you know what you're in for if you decided to pick up this book (and I hope you do), here's a little passage from it:

"Even at twenty-two I knew better than to ask a Frenchman - especially a French waiter - if he spoke English, which is considered rude and insulting. You should attempt to speak in French, no matter how bad your French might be, and hope you get a reply in English, but in this fancy restaurant, with the stakes high, the prices higher, and the mustachioed waiters straight out of central casting, my nerves got the better of me, and to Judy's alarm and mine alike, I blurted out, "Do you speak English?" The only explanation I have for the reaction that followed was that the poor non-English-speaking fellow must have thought I said, "Do you sodomize your mother?"