How do you learn a language?

Life on a French farm

“Mon serviette,” the trilingual three-year-old demands from his high-chair.

“Ma serviette,” Grand-meré corrects.

“Mon serviette,” the boy insists.

“Non, ma serviette. C’est feminine.”

“Mon serviette.”

Later on, the grand-daughters are practicing their spelling.

“Onze?”

“O-N-S”

“Non.”

“Z?”

“Oui.”

“O-N-Z-E?”

How do you learn a language?

Not how do you memorise vocabulary, or correctly conjugate verbs, but how do you open your mouth and persuade a sound to come out? What’s more, how do you make this sound loud enough and clear enough that someone sitting at the other side of the dinner table knows you’re speaking to them?

This is a skill that the children have and I struggle with. Everyone at the table is in the process of learning. The children are learning both English and French, the grandparents are improving their English with the help of my frequent but gentle corrections and I’m…

… I guess I’m learning to overcome that debilitating panic that numbs my memory. I’m lost every time I want to ask for something or reply to someone in French. It doesn’t so much matter that I’m stuck in the present tense, nor that I have atrocious pronunciation. I just have to start.

How do you feel about speaking a foreign language?