Who enjoys feeling inadequate or incompetent? Who actually likes the process of failure? Very few. I hate not knowing how to do something, feeling useless. Whenever I’m faced with a task that I don’t understand, something that’s beyond my physical or mental capacity, I suddenly feel compelled to become a master: I’ll draft a plan of action for daily improvement and chart my progress. For the longest time, I’ve associated the idea of being a beginner with frustration, forever measuring myself on the grand scale of accomplishment. Where do I fit on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being clueless and 10 being superstar? I purposely gravitate toward activities in which I know I’ll do at least mildly well.
A few months ago, on a whim, I signed up for a French course to re-activate some mental muscle memory, and hopefully improve my current reading, comprehension, writing, and oral skills. Wednesday was our first session and, after I finally found the office building downtown that housed the language school, I realized that I would have to communicate in French for three hours straight – cold turkey. Everyone was forced to wrack their brains for a vocabulary that either didn’t exist, or was extremely rusty and dusty from lack of use. (In the past, I’d purchased a handful of French novels to “maintain my comprehension” and set lofty daily reading goals that would eventually fall by the wayside after a week or two.) We struggled to force our lips around unfamiliar pronunciation, and comprehend the rules of irregular and self-reflexive verbs.
In a city that requires fluent bilingualism for any job that pays above the poverty line – only a bridge away from Quebec – French is important, but it’s not the number one reason I’ve chosen to hop aboard this particular educational train. I want to confront the part of myself that doesn’t know how to do something, and I want to embrace my lack of knowledge.
This past week, I’ve slowly been chipping away at the first three chapters of Anna Gavalda’s Ensemble, c’est tout, one of those novels I mentioned earlier, originally purchased with good intentions. I’ve been using my trusty Larousse and Le Robert dictionaries, yet stumbling continuously over the conjugations of verbs. At this point, I’ve read the first chapter nearly five times, a layer of meaning revealing itself with every repetition. It’s not as bad as starting from scratch, but it’s definitely close. And, I’m not going to lie, I have to force myself to sit and read, both silently and out loud, everyday. Not knowing and not understanding is totally annoying. Though, when I finally understood what “maudits bleus” (damned bruises) and “le chiendent” (the trouble/rub) meant within the context of the story, I wanted to do a little victory dance; and when I realized that “souvent” actually means “often” and isn’t a conjugation of the verb “souvenir” like I’d originally guessed, the light bulb flickered above my head once again. But, I’ll definitely have to watch the movie eventually.
Now, the tricky part: remembering; being able to recognize these words if I were to see them again in a different sentence; and, of course, not losing focus or momentum.
So far, it’s a slow but rewarding process.
When you’re faced with something you don’t understand, a task for which you are not equipped to handle, what do you do? How do you conquer the not knowing? Do you feel intimidated or intrigued?