It all started with a massive, unrequited crush. Well, if you can have a massive, unrequited crush on what is basically a bunch of sheds where you do science.
I have to confess that for a Francophile with a translation blog I wasn’t into languages very much as a child – at least, not modern ones. I spoke English because I live in England, Hebrew because it was the language I grew up hearing around the house, and Latin because I wanted to speak the language of Julius Caesar (at the time I had a massive kid-crush on him and was a bit of a history nerd). I certainly didn’t like French; in fact, I absolutely despised it. I’ve never been much good with pronunciation and to an English speaker French pronunciation makes no sense at all. I didn’t understand the point of a language that wasn’t spoken the way it was written, and so I vowed to turn my back on the language.
So as you can imagine, when I set off for secondary school at the tender age of eleven, I wasn’t too pleased to learn that studying French would be compulsory. Being a stubborn little thing, I made up my mind not to learn any French at all.
Well, that resolution lasted until my first ever French lesson and was then promptly discarded, never to be revived again. You see, I took quickly to learning something new. I was interested in French. I even…liked it, though for all my ability to write I still couldn’t garble my way through “Bonjour, je m’appelle Osnat” by the end of year 7. (For people who didn’t go to school in England around when I did, this is the equivalent of first form, 6th grade or sixième.) The situation was much the same in year 8 (7th grade or cinquième); I liked French, and I was reasonably good at it, but it wasn’t something I really loved.
Things changed in year 9 (8th grade, quatrième) when we got a new Head of Modern Foreign Languages and she came to teach our set – the top set. She would read French to us, so I finally got the hang of pronouncing it; it now makes perfect sense to me, it’s just that the letters represent sounds different from those in the English language. She would encourage us to do more outside of the classroom and started to teach us about French culture as well as French language, which made me far more interested in learning to read, write and speak. So, Mrs Venter, if you somehow stumble across this, thank you for getting me to really love French.
All the same, I was wavering – but soon things changed. That year, not only did we have to pick our GCSE options (for those who don’t know, GCSEs are basic qualifications supposed to be taken at the end of year 11, before you go into post-16 education), but despite protests the government raised university tuition fees to £9,000 (about $14,100 USD at current exchange rates) a year. Fearing that studying in the UK would be too expensive, I considered studying abroad; European public universities are often far cheaper. And for that, I would need a language – and for that, I would need to really work hard at French.
I think I’ve had my heart set on someday working at CERN since I was about 12. From the distance it looks like a heart-sinkingly ugly bunch of sheds – but find your way inside and it’s an international playground for scientists from all over the world, a place to set up experiments from proton collisions to trying to find axions (hypothesised particles that could explain dark matter). Now, at this point I was about 14 and knew nothing about French universities, and where I ought to go to study physics – but I knew that the University of Geneva taught in French and had close links with CERN, and thus reasoned that it ought to be pretty good. And so, during my GCSE years, I became determined to try and study there, and thus determined to do well in French.
Over years 10 and 11 I just got better and better, and found myself falling in love with the language more and more. I took up reading in French for fun outside of class – and I don’t mean student texts, I mean proper, grown-up French literature. At first it was a struggle, but the more I read the better I got and I now happily buy French books. By the time I had to pick my AS level choices at 16 (AS levels are taken straight after GCSEs and are sort of half of a full A-level, your under-18 leaving qualifications in a lot of English schools), I had given up on going to Geneva in favour of studying at a good university in the UK – but I had also fallen deeply in love with French language and literature and had no intention of giving it up any time soon. And so I wound up taking AS French, learning even more about the culture, and being inspired to set up this blog – which will update more, I promise you! My results were a hell of a lot better than I expected, and so I ended up taking A-Level French, which I’ve only just started – but I certainly hope I won’t regret taking it.
I don’t know why I wrote all this; I suppose I just think it’s a funny story, of how a girl who hated French and showed no interest in modern languages ended up a Francophile and attempted translator. And I suppose I wanted to show students that it is worth carrying on with a language and trying to learn more about it in your own time, because you never know what you might find.