I’m bad at French (and it’s great)

Of everything I study, French is the hardest for me by far. My grammar is terrible; my pronunciation is pretty atrocious. The days I work on my French Duolingo, it takes me much longer to get through my lessons. It is probably just not my language.

This isn’t to say everything else I do comes easily or naturally to me. I can’t do a German accent to save my life–I’ve lived too long in the South and studied too many romance languages besides–but I can read it relatively well. Dutch is either utterly alien or shockingly close to English depending on what you want to say. Spanish and Italian come much easier than the others, although I’ve yet to figure out how to keep the two vocabularies distinct.

My banjo studies are going rather slowly, but I’ve almost got all the common rolls memorized. JavaScript makes me want to chuck my laptop out an open window, and yet HTML and CSS are coming along nicely. Don’t get me started on Euclid, which never makes any sense at all until it does. Not much worth learning is very easy–it’s enough to say I’m making progress.

There is no such progress for French. There is a distinct possibility I will never be very good at the language. I can accept this about myself, but I think that makes it important not to give up French, at least not in frustration and not right away. There is something oddly empowering in recognizing the things at which we are perhaps not meant to excel. To say, “No, not French.” There is likewise something worthwhile in persisting not despite or denial of that knowledge, but rather with it in mind. I think being bad at French–or whatever you’re bad it–is healthy. Necessary.

The point is not the futility of being bad at something, to simply say: “I can’t do this.” Instead, to acknowledge, “There’s a limit to what I can do with this subject. I can pursue that limit. Or not. That’s up to me.” In some ways, it’s about knowing what I can and can’t control. I can decide to invest my time in learning any particular thing, however much I can learn for however long that takes. Maybe the limit to what I can learn isn’t where I thought it was. Maybe I will be better at French than I can currently imagine. (Maybe I won’t.) Maybe at some point I will be too busy to continue studying it. All of these things are fine.

What are you bad at it?


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