I’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. You 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.
For 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?
In 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.
Halfway 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.”
From there, I was in overdrive. I listened to French songs. I have also learned Spanish, Hausa and the obsession with learning new langiage never stop!
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.
That 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.
I 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.
As 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).
Having 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 other foreign languages–but only with writing.
A 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.
I 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 guy that people came to ask for help not just in French but Spanish as well as in Hausa.
I continued loving French. I continued improving my French. The 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 service.
My 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.
But 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.
It 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.
If 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.