Every time I visit France I come up against the same conundrum, I can understand french, read french, even feel french, but I have a terrible time speaking french. This is frustrating. I follow along in the conversations, get the gist of it, nod my head emphatically, but my mouth opens and the gears in my brain start sticking. I have dreamt in french, and in those wonderful dreams I speak it fluently, with a very convincing accent.But, alas, this is not true in the waking world. I stumble along, with my Larousse at hand, frantically looking up a word while those around me carry on. And when it is time to leave, just as I am boarding the Eurostar back to London, all my french comes flooding back. I disembark in the U.K. ready to shout Bonjour...instead of Hello. If I had just stayed on a wee bit longer, I tell myself, all that French, all those sinuous, silky words would slither out in grand secession and I would toss my head, and make a little french pout. Oh, I would be so lovely and understood!
This is way I feel about reading. I love to read. I love to read meaty things like literary criticism and philosophy. I understand what I read, it flows into my brain, stimulating my grey cells, connecting my ideas one to another. I begin thinking, really thinking, pulling from other sources, creating patterns of thought. Synergy! I become inspired and, frankly, quit excited at my own thought processes. And then I open my mouth; it does not come out the same way it went in. I don't seem to be able to put a full, comprehensible sentence together. The same thing happens when I write. I have an attack of brain constipation. Oh, the strain, the feeling of bloatedness. Oh...if I could only snort up a brain ex-lax maybe I could produce a well written essay instead of the simple minded stop/start sentences that appear on virtual paper on my computer.
Take right now for an example. I am reading a very interesting (if not a bit dry) article on Assyrian exoticism in the nineteenth century. It is an article on semiotics, another field that fascinates me. But, all this wonderful information is going in, I understand it, I get it, but will I be able to translate it into my own words? Will I have the same trouble I did in France? This is where fear comes in. I hate to admit it but I am sore afraid. And I think that fear works like a existential steak dinner. It clogs you up.
And why can I write so freely here, letting the words pour out onto the page, seeing such nicely constructed thoughts congeal? I am also writing a paper on a novel by Saul Bellow. I know what I want to say, I understand what I am trying to say...but, can I say it? It jerks out of me in sophomoric sentences, "The book is about ends and beginnings. That is what the book is about." Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but it is akin to my speaking french " Je suis, er um, J'ai...aahh. Je comprend...oui...oui"
I keep trying. I will keep trying...eventually the blockage will come loose and I will write with conviction, knowledge and a freedom of spirit. Ah yes. And someday, I will carry on a conversation in complete sentences with my french friends as well. J'espire'!