Language. Do you speak it?
I don’t know if I do. Now, I know that I’ve got the basics down. I learned how to construct a simple sentence in French 1 at the age of 11 (Je m’appelle Elizabeth). I know how to politely order something in a restaurant (Je voudrais…). I know the basics.
I know my Frenchman thinks I’m fluent and celebrates my every attempt as a complete success. (C’etait PARFAIT!). I know that I plan those sentences very carefully in my head before I say them out loud.
I don’t know if I can navigate real life.
In real life, the conversation doesn’t stop after you order your steak frites, merci. There are more questions. There are rapid-fire statements. There are people yelling and staring and waiting for you to respond to a question you didn’t even know they asked.
And it’s not just the fear of looking foolish in a restaurant. What about an office?
Am I really business-level proficient enough in Français to be able to tackle a real work situation? I can barely keep up with the jargon of my industry in English, let along play catch-up with the French equivalents. What happens when I’m actually expected to solve a problem or handle a project when, thank my lucky stars, I’ve managed to land myself a job? Even at an American company, I imagine there will be plenty of French spoken by, you know, the French people. Am I able to handle that? I have no idea.
There’s a certain Je ne sais quoi … when you really truly don’t know (ne sais pas) what a person is saying to you.