It’s all my mother’s fault that I can’t speak French! (Getting to know Mira, Part One)

Today, as promised, I’m going to introduce you to a friend from Six Sundays long ago, Mira.  You met her when I posted a snippet of her desire for discipline and then a snippet of the aftermath of her first discipline from her tutor.

I posted the blurb yesterday with the book release announcement, and so today it’s time to start with a little confession.

It’s all my mother’s fault that I can’t speak French.


From the time that I knew there was such a thing as a foreign language, I wanted to learn it.  Them.  All.  Everything.  I grew up in a decidedly monolingual town in a decidedly monolingual state, and my decidedly monolingual parents never learned a foreign language.

(Listen carefully.  Can you hear the sound of a child’s heart cracking?)

I begged to join the after-school French club in elementary school, only to be told no.  I consoled myself by poring over A Little Princess, asking for a French-English dictionary as a gift, and teaching myself what every French word meant.  Frances Burnett was quite nice about putting the French words in context so I could guess even without a dictionary.  Then there was Ballet Shoes with its lovely French teacher, Madame Moulin.  I learned my first French sentence when she admonished twelve-year-old acting student Pauline that an actress can learn until her last hour.  N’oubliez jamais qu’une actrice continue a apprendre jusque’a son dernier jour.  (Sorry for the lack of accents.  Ballet Shoes is also responsible for my love of Citroen cars, but that’s a story for another day!)

Then in junior high, I got to take a Foreign Language Survey class.  Bliss!  One semester of Latin, French, German, and Spanish taught in four separate units so we could get an idea of which language we wanted to take the next year.

I despised Spanish because it was popular.  Three-fourths of the students chose Spanish because they thought it would be easy.  I have come to appreciate the beauty of Spanish as an adult, but at the time I was horrified at the thought of doing something that everyone else was doing.  (I am sure you are shocked that I wanted to do my own thing.)  German was fun, but I shied away from the harsh guttural sounds.

Latin, however, was an instant soul mate.  Even better, only a few students wanted to take it.  Latin and I had five years of a love affair before I got to college and realized that the professors only wanted me to translate endless accounts of Caesar’s battles.

I knew I would take Latin.

I knew, also, that I would take French.

Every other student chose one foreign language plus home ec or shop.  (Yes, it was that kind of school.)  I had my heart set on my two foreign languages, though, and I even got the blessing of both teachers.  I was the kid who never took her nose out of a book.  Of course they wanted me in their class.

Every student had to get class registration forms signed by parents.  It went something like this:

“Mom! Mom!  I’m going to take French and Latin next year!”


“I can’t wait!  Mr. Latin teacher and Mrs. French teacher said Latin is more about the written and French is more about the verbal, so it’s okay to take both at the same time!”

“What about home ec?”

“I’m not going to take home ec!”

Guess who ended up taking home ec?

I’m still bitter.

To add insult to injury, our homework consisted of things such as, “Make a beverage consisting of at least two ingredients.  Make a sandwich consisting of at least two fillings.”

Did I mention that I am still bitter?

By the time I got old enough to qualify for the high-school beginner-level French classes, the class had been dropped due to lack of interest.  By the time I got to college, my schedule was too crammed with major and general education classes to make room for French.

I could have been great.  I could have been a translator, interpreter, a diplomat or…

Mira, on the other hand, in Desire in Any Language, goes after her dream. She shares my disdain of an upbringing that has left her ill-equipped to pick up a foreign language, and she struggles to catch up.  Here is a snippet of Mira in class:

Annoyed, I doodle in the margin of my textbook.  The grammar of each lesson is easy and the reading comprehension easier, but the rapid-fire conversation is hard to follow.  Most of the other students grew up at least hearing other languages in their home.  I grew up with English only.  Stupid Americans.

Although Mira is a party girl at heart, enjoying the wildness of night clubs and the various alcoholic drinks available, she also yearns to become a translator.  This is a small scene once she has decided to buckle down and study:

Ah-ee is annoyed when I reject each offer to go out at night.  “You used to be fun,” she complains.  She doesn’t understand that she can learn reading a lot faster than I can learn listening comprehension.  All she has to do is memorize some vocabulary and correct her spelling.  Growing up in a multi-lingual home gave her a fantastic ear for both content and pitch.  She sounds like a native speaker when she opens her mouth, and even if she can’t spell half of the words correctly she can figure out the meaning of reading passages if she concentrates very hard on context.  I’m not top of my class in reading no matter how hard I work, but it’s the one subject I am sure I will pass.  It’s the devilishly difficult listening class that I can’t comprehend.

I stay in the media lab after class every day struggling to match the garbled gobbledygook coming through my headset to the printed transcriptions in my textbook.  When each question is designed to deliberately trick us, how can I ever get it right?  I memorize the transcripts in a vain attempt to make sense of the words, but the recordings blitz by even when I know the words.  I am the first student in the media lab after class and the last to leave.  At first the room monitor checks my desk every few minutes to make sure I am not sleeping or messing around, but by the end of the week I arrive to find that she has my usual cubicle ready with my class CD in the player.

“Thank you!” I beam in surprise, and she pats my shoulder.

“Study hard.”

Tune in for more posts about “Getting to Know Mira”.  I’ll be running a series of snippets and thoughts about her story in the days before Blushing Books releases Desire in Any Language on January 18th.

It’s all my mother’s fault that I can’t speak French.

Mira, on the other hand, overcame her monolingual background.  Good for you, Mira.  🙂


22 thoughts on “It’s all my mother’s fault that I can’t speak French! (Getting to know Mira, Part One)

  1. minellesbreath says:

    I am still smiling about the homework consisting of two ingredients! I’m trying to think of any sandwich I would enjoy whose filling was only two ingredients!
    I did take French in HS, did I mention that?
    I also was very good with pronunciation, even participated in a city wide contest. I bombed cause I was so nervous! Lol
    You can take French now!
    Seriously I am so excited about this release! It sounds so very appealing, the desire to go after your dreams, and finding love as well!


    • Ana says:

      I have been known to enjoy a PB&J in a pinch, but honestly.

      Of course with a name like Minelle you must have taken French!

      I love Mira and hope that everyone else likes her, too. I’m going to post more about her party-girl ways soon. 😀

      Thank you so much for your enthusiasm. Makes me smile. 😀


  2. pao says:

    Congratulations on yet another book! 🙂 Aww… I can relate to some of those feelings. Language classes were considered unimportant in school and there wasn’t a wide range of languages to choose from. English was compulsory and I loved it but detested the way they taught it. We were also forced to learn Jawi at one point. I didn’t mind it.

    It’s funny how most students in my school are quite reluctant to speak during the media lab sessions. Everyone has their headphones on anyway.

    Can’t wait for more 🙂


    • Ana says:

      What is Jawi? That sounds neat. There are so many benefits to learning languages, and even if kids learn them badly it is good to try.

      Speaking in a new language is scary, for sure!


      • pao says:

        Jawi is the Arabic alphabet for writing the Malay language amongst other languages. It was and is used mostly for Islamic studies, so many parents were extremely upset that kids were learning it. Like ‘I’ll disown you if you like that class’ kind of upset.

        I love languages. If I had the time and resources I’d continue what I picked up in school.


        • Ana says:

          Maybe once you get settled you will have the time and resources. Becoming multilingual now is a big help in the workplace.

          I think it’s sad to have such prejudice against a language. Having more languages is not a bad thing.


  3. Viola says:

    Where I live, English is compulsory from the start of primary school and another foreign language is added in “middle school” (12-15 years old). Latin is mandatory in what we call “Liceo”. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean we are all polyglots 🙂
    Above all, everyone should be entitled to choose one’s studies without interferences from parents.


    • Ana says:

      Latin is mandatory!

      I think I had a small spontaneous…um…pleasurable moment.


      To have that kind of language exposure from an early age is amazing. I truly am envious.


  4. Cat says:

    It’s your mother’s fault you don’t know French? What would Nat say to Kat if she tried that excuse? Hmmm… Maybe something like “It’s never too late to learn if you want. Don’t blame your mother for what you don’t want to make time to do now.” followed by a red tush? Don’t let someone (Minelle) tattle to Mrs. Klaus…

    Seriously, thanks for the snippet – can’t wait for the book! Home Ec? bleh I learned more about cooking from my dad. Guess it’s more for those whose parents do take out and/or frozen dinners. 😉


    • Ana says:

      LOL! I really did laugh out loud! Heaven help me if Kat ever tried that with Natalie! Kat would be in trouble, and then *I* would be in trouble with lots of people who think Natalie is too hard on Kat. Giggle.

      Don’t even give Minelle the idea for tattling! :-O She has enough ideas already! Plus, I finally got rid of that dratted Mrs. Claus and her horrid spoon.

      There will be more snippets. 😀


  5. Blondie says:

    Geez, and here my husband and I are insisting that our children take Spanish because it would be more useful here in California then French. Yet my oldest insisted and took French and loved it. I am not sure where he will ever use it but he knows it.
    Great excerpt from the book. Looking forward to reading the entire book!


    • Ana says:

      It’s always what you don’t get to have. 😀 For the record, I wouldn’t have been allowed to take *any* additional language. It just happened to be French.

      Learning a language is all about love, and if the love is not there it makes it difficult to learn. Also, once you learn a first foreign language it makes others easy. I bet your son will learn to love other languages after his experience with French.

      Thank you, Blondie!


  6. Joelle Casteel says:

    oo!!!! I cannot wait to read it now, Ana. I had foreign language struggles too. Very monolingual parents here too 😦 I was expected to take two years of a foreign language however because I was “college prep track.” Unfortunately I choose French in the midst of my drug addiction and had an alcoholic for a teacher. So I didn’t really learn anything.

    However, reading your French up there makes me think of my 11th hour problem with “Out of the Night: Book One.” I’m not going with now; their EPUB converter only works with English or French. Well I have two characters raising their child bilingually, dad speaking German and mom speaking English. While the child’s not actively in the story often- this book being erotic fiction- there are some scenes that include him, and there’s a further (and surprising, for the reader) need for German in the book. I’m about to start reading Smashword’s style guide, to see if they can handle the German.


    • Ana says:

      Thank you, Joelle! I’ll be sharing more snippets and info this week and next. And yes, including bits of other languages can be a problem with certain kinds of software. That’s why this story uses romanized (written with regular English letters, without accents) versions of foreign words.


      • Joelle Casteel says:

        I thought of just switching to romanized characters. I hope that’s enough. If smashwords even has an issue. since there’s already standard fixes for the two most common German characters that aren’t in the English alphabet.

        and I’ll be watching for those snippets 😀


  7. newlifeindd says:

    I’m glad Mira thinks the grammar of French is easy. My French teacher at High school told me that each french verb could be conjugated in about 80 different ways. Since I was in a science oriented class, we only had to learn 20 ways. Oh, and please ask Mira for the correct translation of ‘le jour’. It is not an hour. I hated learning 3 foreign languages at school, but these days, I’m fond of playing with all the relations between words in different languages.


    • Ana says:

      Ah, the language Mira learns is not French, but it’s not specified. (It’s a long story).

      Mira just means that in comparison to the listening and speaking, the grammar is easy. You know how people learn grammar-translation of foreign languages but not how to speak it? That’s how Mira is.

      I don’t know the conjugation, but I will ask!


  8. Roz says:

    Thank you for the snippet Ana, looking forward to reading more! Lucky for us your childhood frustrations inspired you to write this 🙂

    Giggling at the home ec homework too.



    • Ana says:

      Thank you, Roz! I’m trying to decide what to put up today.

      Isn’t it true that our childhood frustrations later inspire us to do many things? 😀

      I have nothing against home ec if it actually TEACHES something useful. Sigh.


  9. Cara Bristol says:

    Interesting. I did take Spanish in high school and college — but I had wanted to take French. In freshman orientation, MY MOTHER said, “you live in California, you should take Spanish.”


  10. alexandriaconstantinova says:

    Ma chérie Ana,
    Je parle couramment le français, l’espagnol (l’Espagne), et en anglais, dans tous leurs dialectes.

    Je peux comprendre l’italien, parce qu’il est si proche de l’espagnol, et peut comprendre un peu l’allemand (bien que je n’aime pas, pour des raisons ethniques, ainsi que pour le son dur et guttural), et un peu de latin.

    Mes parents ne voulaient pas que je prenne des langues étrangères, et m’a forcé à prendre Home Ec, où j’ai appris à coudre, mais pas comment faire cuire (a appris que le mien). J’ai tout simplement jamais leur ai dit que je prenais ces classes.

    Il n’est jamais trop tard pour apprendre une langue étrangère, et bien que j’ai appris dans le Midwest des États-Unis, quand je suis allé à Paris lors de mon voyage premier livre, j’ai été constamment dit que j’avais un “accent adorablement douce.”

    Faute de votre mère, si tu veux, mais prendre quelques cours de français maintenant.

    Amour, baisers, étreintes, et félicitations pour vos livres.

    (My darling Ana,
    I am fluent in French, Spanish (of Spain), and English, in all their dialects.

    I can understand Italian, because it is so close to Spanish, and can understand a little German (though I dislike it for ethnic reasons as well as for the harsh, guttural sound), and quite a bit of Latin.

    My parents didn’t want me to take any foreign languages, and forced me to take Home Ec, where I learned how to sew, but not how to cook (learned that on my own). I simply never told them I was taking those classes.

    It’s never too late to learn a foreign language, and though I learned in the MidWest United States, when I went to Paris on my first book tour, I was constantly told I had an “adorably sweet accent.”

    Blame your mother if you must, but take some French lessons now.
    Love, kisses, hugs, and congratulations on your books.


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