Friday, April 15, 2011

Impostor Syndrome

One of the advantages of having already struggled with a few other foreign languages is that one picks up a few survival techniques along the way. For instance, it's crucial not to become too obsessed with getting things right the first time. Much better just to say something, and allow oneself to be corrected, than to sit there trying to construct a grammatically perfect sentence in one's head. My first time in Germany, I would try to have each sentence be correct before I said it, with predictably unsatisfying results - by the time I put my two cents in, the conversation would have already moved on, leaving me feeling like an idiot. Here in Paris, I allow myself to be carried along by a kind of fake bravado; that is, I just open my mouth and speak, putting my faith in instinct and a fair amount of (intelligent?) guesswork. It's amazing how far you can get with this strategy, and you learn much quicker, because even though you make mistakes, it's precisely that process of making mistakes and being corrected that helps you progress. One slight drawback is that often people assume you know more than you actually do, so they start speaking incredibly fast (as French people are wont to do). Nonetheless, even though that can be difficult in the short term, it's helpful in the long run. At least I hope it is.

But even though I seem to get away with faking it more often than not, at times I feel like a complete impostor. So it was reassuring today to receive a couple of pieces of confirmation that maybe I am making some genuine progress. First they announced that, since our class (which was the most advanced currently being offered) had grown to 17 students, they would split us into two groups beginning on Monday. One would be a continuation of the advanced intermediate class (level B2.2), the other would be at the advanced level (C1). Apparently I have been judged sufficiently advanced to be included in the C1 class. So I am pretty happy about that.

In addition, last week I took the TCF (test de connaissance de francais), which is a standardized test, administered by the school, but graded centrally, and which was being offered free, simply as a way to determine one's level. Given that we took the test cold, with no special preparation, I was very pleasantly surprised by my grade, which I am told corresponds to a level of C1 (I had been expecting to make B1, B2 with luck, given my lack of preparation). Since my original goal, when leaving San Francisco, was to make it to B2 by the end of my 14 weeks of classes*, the result was really a big boost to my ego. (Sorry if it seems like I'm boasting here, but part of the function of this blog is to track my linguistic progress).

So, when I join Nancy and Gabriella for dinner tomorrow evening, I think I will have earned a few celebratory glasses of wine!

*: To put this in perspective, it took me almost 6 months to reach level B2 when I first went to Spain, in 2007, and another 2 years to make it to level C2 after that. But it could just as well take another 2 years to make it to level C2 in French.

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