’m sitting in the school “auditorium” picking my classes for
freshman year, and I decide to take French (out of a choice of French or French)
along with a handful of other honors classes. My mom sees that I’m taking
harder classes, and suggests I take French instead
of Spanish, just in case I needed help (since she and my dad took French in
high school and college too). I changed it without a second thought.
may not think this is a significant part of the story, but every time I think
about it, it stuns me how much one little choice like that changed my life.
When originally telling the story, I never included this aspect as a main part
of the story, but as a side note or a comment of sheer amazement.
the first three and a half years, French was just another class I had to
take–it was the “easy A” class. It wasn’t a demanding class, and if I did the
work, I’d get an A. I didn’t really learn the language because I didn’t care.
What’s a conjugation? What’s a stem change? Preterite? Imperfect?
the state where I live, the high school foreign language requirement is 2
years, with a recommended 3+ years for college bound students. I planned on
going to college, but there was a part of sophomore Elica that really did not
want to take another year of French. Though, I somehow talked myself into
taking another year of French just to make my transcript look better.
into my third and what I thought would be my final year in French, my teacher
plays this song.
She had us watch the music video too. As I’m watching, I recognize how
beautiful the French accent is. That’s what did it. An accent as small as a
“lisp.” That “lisp” made me think, “I really want to learn this language.”
there, I was in overdrive. I listened to French songs, I became obsessed with
wanting to be fluent one day, and I became obsessed with wanting to go to Spain,
going to college in Spain, living in Spain, moving in Spain. Spain, Spain,
Needless to say, I signed myself up for a fourth year of French,
but was very skeptical about it. I doubted my French abilities because I didn’t
know how to conjugate properly, and I didn’t even know how to thank my teacher
by saying “I learned a lot this year” at the end of my third year. I emailed
the French 4 teacher who I had talked with a little previously, and she assured
me I would be fine and that I could do it.
wasn’t good enough for me, but I was determined. I did sign up for French 4, but
I had a whole summer to turn around my doubt. The summer between my junior year
and senior year was dedicated to taking my knowledge of French and improving it
times one hundred.
listened to more and more songs. I found a pen pal website to talk to people
who knew about
the French language: native speakers. I started exchanging messages with people
from countries like Spain and Mexico; some of the messages were so long I
actually became exhausted by the end of writing them in a different language.
Sometimes I didn’t even want to respond, but I was determined to get better
because for once in my life, I had found something I loved. I knew it was
something special because I actually did something about it. I had never had
anything like that before in my life.
my French continued to improve that summer, I not only spoke to people from French-speaking
countries, but I spoke to people from France, Germany, England, Switzerland,
Brazil; I talked to people from all over the world (this is what also got me
into wanting to travel more).
some Northern Nigerian friends, I decided to give learning Hausa a shot. By
my self. I mean, I knew French, how hard could it be? Using the Internet and my
French skills (and with the help of my friends), I was able to conquer a level
of Hausa in less than three months that allowed me to converse with
Brazilians–but only with writing.
thing about me, I’m a very shy person who expresses herself better in the
written word. Besides listening to songs and a few YouTube videos in Hausa, I
didn’t focus much on talking. But that was okay with me–being able to
communicate in some form of another language made me ecstatic. It made me
ecstatic because I did it by myself, and for myself.
walked back into school for my senior year confident in my French. It was the
first class in a long time I was excited to go to. It was the first time in a
long time that I felt I had found my “academic niche.” Before, I felt lost–I
felt like I was “just average” (or worse..) in math, science, English, history,
every subject you could think of. I became the girl that people came to to ask
for help in French.
continued loving French. I continued improving my French. Sky was the limit for
me and I couldn’t get enough of the language. And my teacher knew that.
At the end of every senior year at my school, there is an awards
ceremony. Teachers with seniors gave awards for certain subjects, scholarships
were handed out, awards were given for GPA, valedictorians, and community
GPA wasn’t good enough to get an award. I didn’t receive a scholarship. I
wasn’t a valedictorian. I wasn’t the president of a club. I wasn’t a stand-out
leader. I didn’t do nearly enough community service to get an award.
the one thing I cared about the most about,
I got an award for. My teacher gave me the Academic Excellence Award for French
IV. Each teacher gave a mini speech about the student, revealing who it was at
the end. My teacher wasn’t able to attend, so she had the AP French teacher
read her speech about me.
put me to tears. I knew it was me when, in the speech, she had mentioned I’d
“even learned Hausa.” The worst part about it was having to walk on stage to
receive the award, trying to act like I hadn’t shed a tear. I shook the AP French
teacher’s hand because I didn’t know her. Many of the other students gave their
teachers hugs for these kinds of awards, but my teacher wasn’t there.
she was, if I had to look her in the eye and give her a hug, I would have cried
on stage. I was probably happier than anyone else who received ten awards or a
scholarship for thousands of dollars. To me, that was the most valuable award
out there because I have never worked so hard for something I never knew I
was going to get. That was what was so beautiful about it.