Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tongue-Tied and Twisted

Yesterday was a rather trying day. I attended a detailed hour-long presentation on Guinea's offshore geology and oil prospects, in French, followed by a fairly technical two-and-a-half-hour meeting on Guinea's new mining code, also in French. I felt like I was doing really well following it all, keeping up. And then at the end of the mining meeting we went around the table and gave our impressions. While the others were taking their turns I put together something relatively coherent and fluid to say, but once eight pairs of eyes were locked on me it was suddenly all gone. I fumbled around and came up with something, but it wasn't quite what I wanted and made me sound like an autistic child rather than the capable professional I want people to think I am. Sigh.

I think I can say without too much undue self-flattery that my English is very good, certainly above average. I'm used to having a vast army of words at my beck and call, to wield with surgical precision or poetic allusion as the situation requires. In French I don't have anything close to that, and it's so frustrating to struggle so hard to express myself and end up with such disappointing results.

Frustrating and humiliating. Everyone else in that room was at least functionally bilingual; many spoke three or four or five languages well. At this point I'm at about one and a half. Maybe. If I'm still having this kind of difficulty with French - a relatively simple language I've been studying in fits and starts since I was SEVEN - what hope do I have for my future tours where I may have to pull together a much more difficult language from scratch in a matter of months? Why is what seems so easy for other people so hard for me?

Yestrday was also trying because the traffic was so bad on the way back from the mining meeting that it took two hours to get home. But at least I could spend that part of the day in sweet silence.


  1. Be gentle with yourself - you will get there!

  2. Hello Meredith, Jennifer. Nice to meet you. I stumbled across your site via someone else's, and was delighted to see that you were in West Africa! Hang in there with French. it will flow more and more. It IS hard when the intelligence and eloquence that is in your mind doesn't flow out through the second language the way you want it to. I can completely relate. I lived in Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia and France.

    Bon courage!

    Jennifer Dougan