Time: A weekday, a few weeks in the past.
Scene: at work, drinking hot mint tea and eating cold raw cheese, remembering the day I learned to drink something hot when eating cheese. My Swiss friend Regi was giving me (and a few others) French lessons. One day, she planned an outing for us at the Thoreau Cultural Center in Des Moines. I think it was a meeting of French expats and students. They served so many cheeses, plus fondue, and lots of hot tea. Regi’s native-speaking friends asked us in French to pose for photographs with them–and I understood what they were asking. There’s a weird endorphin release when you understand something out in the wild you previously only knew by the book.
Thinking about it today, isn’t it interesting that when learning a language, the skill that comes first is listening and understanding? I could barely croak out a oui oui, but with careful listening, I knew the gist of the conversations around me.
In English, too often my first impulse is to talk, to share, to get it all out and wait for a reaction. But think of the riches–the endorphin hits!–I’m missing by not sitting back and listening intently, focused on what the talker is saying, really saying in between the words.