If you’ve read my memoir, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, you’ll know I was once subjected to a French kiss that was the beginning of a severely anxiety-producing period in my life. This column is about a much better relationship: one with the French language.
As Aspies, we need constant challenge. To live without it is a form of unpleasant inertia for us.
Perhaps that’s why we find games so absorbing; they challenge us while providing an anxiety-free way of being engaged.
An Aspie self-reflection might be to ask ourselves how we can utilize our Aspie focus in a more productive way.
This early in the morning, I’m usually doing a French lesson on Duo Lingo. So far it’s free, I’m interested and I’m learning French! As with many games, my online French lessons do not require any anxiety-causing social interaction, just self-motivation and tremendous concentration, at which Aspies excel.
Why French? Because I have a brief background in the language, including some high school instruction (This is Canada after all, where French is our official second language) and some French at university where a second language was required in the first couple of years.
So, imagine my amazement when visiting in France I discovered that while I could read the signs, and understand quite a bit of what was said, I was unable to communicate verbally. When it came to speaking my tongue got thick, my mouth got dry and I got stuck. That was an unpleasant and for me, rather traumatic surprise!
Now I spend a great deal of time in a household which includes someone who is a native French speaker; someone kind enough to teach me conversational French.
Taking advantage of this opportunity with any degree of accomplishment meant revisiting the vocabulary, the conjugations and the grammar. Voila, Duo Lingo!
At first the conversational aspect was terrifying. After all, it combined a modicum of social interaction along with the practise of something in which I had already failed while in France. It was an effort to go into the sessions and blunder my way through.
Then, one day, for the very first time we had a conversation in which I could fully engage, understanding every word and being understood in return! It remains so significant to me that I even remember exactly where we were standing in the kitchen when the exchange took place.
I may never get back to Hyeres in the south of France, but I will have the satisfaction of being able to speak in another language. To wrap my brain, my tongue, and my throat around another verbal method of communication can only be good for me in so many ways. Surprisingly, each night, my dreams include a word or phrase in French. And the exercises, now that I am in my third month of self-imposed study, have become far more complex; a challenge I enjoy.
Is French helping me in any measurable way? I cannot say. I can only say that the universe has opened up this opportunity for me. And I learned a long time ago—do not say ‘no’ to the universe!