When in French: Love in a Second Language

When in French: Love in a Second Language

I love French.

Ever since having to choose a language class in middle school, I have loved French. That learning French remains a life goal is a testament to good teachers.

My 8th grade French teacher, I have forgotten her name, was one of the most effective, creative, and engaging teachers I’ve ever had. She was firm but not authoritarian, set high expectations where failure was not an option, provided creative incentives for learning, and was clearly knowledgeable and interested in her students and their learning. J’adore la langue française.

It was with that passion that I enrolled in French language class in 9th grade. Different school. Different teacher. She was…disappointingly terrible. I dropped the class, switching into Spanish. That teacher was equally disappointing but at least she wasn’t ruining French.

I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting when I picked up Lauren Collins’ When in French: Love in an Second Language. I had a vague memory of seeing this on Damon and Jo’s travel blog Shut Up and Go, but that may have been a misattributed memory. (If you are looking for info about travel and language, definitely check out their blog and YouTube channel.) Anyways. I figured, French, learning French language, fish-out-of-water memoir, why not. I will tell you why not.

When in French is not your casual read. Or maybe it is. Was I glued to every word, unable to tear away? Absolutely not. But, could I pick it up, read a few pages, then set it down, only to pick it back up again completely able to jump back into the story? Absolutely. I did finish When in French, which is more than I can say for some other titles, and I loved all of the new words I learned along the way (a few of my favorites: paroxysm, syndoche, franking, lepidopterist) and the tidbits of history about culture and language.

I eventually came to enjoy Lauren’s tale of language – how she came to French and the many ways that language has been studied. Part memoir and part history of language, When in French raises the question: Are we who we are because of the language we use? Or, as Lauren states:

“Does each language have its own worldview? Do people have different personalities in different languages? Every exchange student and maker of New Year’s resolutions hopes that the answer is yes. More than any juice cleanse or lottery win or career switch, a foreign language adumbrates a vision of a parallel life. The fantasy is that learning one activates a latent ego, righting a linguistic version of having been switched at birth. Could I, would I, become someone else if I spoke French?” (p. 160).

Throughout When in French, Lauren delves into this question. Her conclusion, I will leave to you to find out.


PAIR IT WITH a leisurely café and pain au chocolat, one of my favorite snacks.