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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart by William Alexander

I can't remember if I've ever mentioned my slight obsession with learning a foreign language.  I've bought Italian dictionaries, the Dummies guide to _________, teach yourself This Language in so many days. I took three years of Spanish in high school (I can count to 20!) and a year of German in college (WAY easier than Spanish, I wish I had continued.)

William Alexander details all the things he tries to learn to speak French like a Frenchman. He  takes classes, he finds multiple French pen pals, he adopts a French persona, he goes to a full immersion course in France. He takes his wife on vacation in France, where he insists on speaking French even to English speakers. He is single-minded and determined.  In the end tho, he still doesn't have the grasp on French that he'd like to have. Brain scans show that he recognizes it at a much deeper level, but he still feels he can't hold a decent conversation. Like all memoirs of this type, learning French isn't the entire point of the book though, and Alexander learns a lot more about himself than he ever expects.

This was a quite enjoyable little memoir, and one I'd recommend.

Here's the summary:
“A delightful and courageous tale and a romping good read. Voila!” —Mark Greenside, author of I’ll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do)
William Alexander is more than a Francophile. He wants to be French. To sip absinthe at the window of a dark cafĂ©, a long scarf wrapped around his neck, a copy of Le Monde at hand. Among the things that have stood in his way of becoming French, though, is the fact that he can’t actually speak the language. So Alexander sets out to conquer the language he loves. Readers will find out if it loves him back.
Alexander eats, sleeps, and dreams French. (He even conjugates in his dreams.) And while he’s playing hooky from grammar lessons and memory techniques, he travels to France, delves into the colorful history of the French language and the science of linguistics, and even goes to Google to find out what’s taking them so long to perfect translation software. Finally, he contemplates how it can be that in French, breasts are masculine and beards are feminine, and tries to make sense of idioms like c’est la fin des haricots (it’s the end of the beans)—which means, appropriately enough, “it’s hopeless.” But ca ne fait rien! (No matter!) What Bill Alexander learns while not learning French is its own reward.

Source: NetGalley
Flirting with French was published in October.


  1. This does sound fun. I've never really been driven to learn a language but I like these types of memoirs. I don't think I've come across one that centers on learning a language before. I'll have to look for this one.

  2. Sounds like a good explanation for why immigrants find it so difficult to conduct business in the language of their new countries. Sounds like a fun read.


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