On No Longer Being a “Bad” French Student

Photo of a croissant with some white sugar powder on it sitting on a plate on a table with wooden slats.

I recently moved to Montréal and ordered a croissant in French. I was nervous, surrounded by flawless French speakers, thinking I would stumble or get confused and have to revert to English, but I didn’t!

I was intermittently homeschooled and in and out of the school system as a kid. No one in my family spoke French, so I didn’t learn it while at home. When I would go back to school for periods of time, I was always super behind my peers.

Unfortunately, I had some negative experiences with teachers refusing to help me catch up and singling me out in front of my classmates. I have a distinct memory of a French teacher yelling at me in front of the whole class for not understanding her, even though I was trying my best.

Generally speaking, I excelled at school, but when it came to French, I was just too far behind. I developed a sort of complex about it, hating French class because it always made me feel unintelligent, overwhelmed, and ashamed.

Coming back to learning this language as an adult has, in contrast, been such a positive experience. I’m so glad I decided to try again. I go at my own pace. I do a little every day. I have a teacher who is patient and never makes me feel bad for not understanding. He just goes slower, explains more, or finds another way to say something.

I’m also focusing on conversational French and the practical stuff I’ll need rather than getting bogged down by complex grammatical rules right off the bat.

What a radically different experience this has been. I no longer feel ashamed, not smart enough, or like I lack the ability to learn. I was never a bad French student, I just wasn’t given the conditions to do well. I have those now, so I’m doing well. Who knew!

Sometimes, it isn’t you, it’s the system. You likely aren’t a “bad learner,” but someone who is struggling because of your circumstances and an inflexible system that lacks an understanding of and compassion for those circumstances. Are you bad at a subject, or are your learning needs just not being met? No one should make you feel ashamed for struggling to learn, especially not an educator! It is quite literally their job to help meet your learning needs. If that’s not happening, then it’s on them or the broader system they’re working with, not you.

You may need a different system, educator, environment, pace, style, or approach. Don’t give up! If I can start relearning French and actually enjoy it, there is hope for you too.

Published by Sage Pantony

Sage Pantony is a writer, poet, and zinester. They write about gender, sexuality, mental health, trauma, creativity, and the best ways to cook eggs. They are the author of several zines, including a trilogy about transitioning as a non-binary person. Sage’s work has appeared in publications such as Coven Poetry, Idle Ink, and The Varsity. They currently reside in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal with their pet dinosaur, Peter.

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