We’re in a crowded room. Everyone is speaking French, and I’m a bit nervous. Like most Americans and Brits, I grew up learning languages at school, but I don’t use them much when I’m not traveling. I take a deep breath, and I join in.
After all, I’m at the Institut Francais in South Kensington, and I have no excuse not to try. On top of that, I have been invited to participate in Franglish, a French-English language exchange in London.
I am greeted by Pierre, who shows me to my first table. Each one in the room is numbered, and Pierre explains that the anglophones will rotate around them every 14 minutes. Glass of wine in hand, I sit down nervously. Will anyone understand me? Will I be judged?
My first partner speaks near fluent English, and we have a good conversation about being expats in London. When it’s time to switch into French, I take a sip of white Burgundy and hope its linguistic roots rub off on me. They do. Kind of. Thankfully my partner is patient, and after awhile my French comes back to me.
My next partner is equally good at English, and the rest posses varying degrees of proficiency. We help each other with words and idioms, smile and laugh a lot, and ultimately find ourselves having a good time.
At the end of the evening, I stack up my notes and bid au revoir to my new friends at Franglish. I am determined to make my time there count, and force myself to think in French all the way home. But I know that my skills will get rusty again soon, and with no travels to francophone countries on the horizon, I might need to become a regular.