Saturday, December 4, 2010

En franc,ais, s'il vous plait

This week I find myself humbled in more ways than one. I've been down with a virus, and the bug I had is about as humbling as they come, but I don't think anyone wants to hear about that.

More daunting, in its own way, is the process of editing Snowstorm, the novel and labor of love to be published in the spring. I must have communicated my apprehension in emails to my editor, because she referred me to a colleague's blog from more than a year ago when he was feeling the same things.  Dave Anderson (author of Killer Cows) did a great job of describing the "happy dance" ( did around the house after getting a book contract. I will admit to doing my own, though I would say mine more resembled the frolic of woodnymphs in spring. He also put very concisely into words my own dismay at finding how much work would be necessary to get the manuscript ready for publication.

What strikes me though is the similarity of my reactions to those of my students struggling to learn French. I see those who pick it up easily, others have to work it, but can make sense of it eventually, but some students, no matter how bright, just don't get foreign languages. Often they study for hours and seem not to have gleaned the basic concepts. More than once I have discovered a resistance in these students, who are, sometimes in spite of themselves, unable to accept the differences in grammar, phrasing, pronunciation, or sentence structure. Many of them want the French to say things the "right" way, like we do in English, and this insistence somehow appears to prevent them from remembering what they consider "wrong" concepts.

Languages are not finite, however, and neither is writing in your own language. Now I find myself facing the same dilemma as some students. I know very well, after rewriting the book several times, rephrasing and restructuring can vastly improve your message. But see, those were my revisions. I even realize the changes the editor, Jenny Turner, has recommended will improve the work, but doggone it, it's just hard to accept.

When the next semester begins, I vow to have more compassion for my unyielding students, because I see, much to my surprise, I am a kindred soul:  stubborn and defensive of my own way of saying things. Funny, I always thought teaching teenagers improved my writing. Maybe writing can make me a better teacher.

And if any of those students ever read this, I give them full permission to say "See? It's not so easy, is it?" (Though I'd prefer they say it in French.)

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