You know that show where people do absolutely terrifying things in the hopes of winning money? Well if I was a contestant, the method of torturing me wouldn’t involve sticking my hand in a nest of angry bees, eating a tarantula or walking a tight-rope from one very high point to another (though I’ll happily say “no thanks!” if offered the chance to willingly do any of those things). All the producers of the show would have to do is plop me down in the middle of a crowded area filled with French people that I know and say, “…aaaaand: SPEAK FRENCH!”
It’s true. I suffer daily from what I not-so-lovingly call Glossofrancofamiliophobia–similar in root to “glossophobia,” which is a fear of public speaking, but with a specific reference to speaking French, and speaking it to people I know.
It’s almost entertaining, really. I can run to the boulangerie and order some bread or a tasty pastry, grab some lunch to go from some local dining establishment, or even catch a ride home in a cab and everything turns out fine. But take me out to dinner with a group of friends–or worse, my French boyfriend–and that’s when the trouble starts. My pulse quickens, my face explores the warmer shades of the rainbow, my brow starts to sweat, and suddenly it’s as if I’ve never studied a word of French in my life.
I get stuck.
I shut the hell up (and trust me, you know there’s a problem when my mouth stops moving).
Sadly, there are no commercials with animated figures who go from sad to happy in a matter of seconds thanks to a miracle pill for this condition. There are no therapists specialized in this field, nor are there rehabilitation centers that can get me on my feet. No, my friends, this phobia is one that has to be tackled alone. And hard.
No doubt the root of this issue lies in confidence, and I make small steps every day to boost mine. Frog Prince helps a lot. He doesn’t laugh at me or make me feel bad when I try and say the basic sentences I have the nerve to muster. But I just can’t shake the idea that the people I’ve come to like and respect will stop reciprocating those feelings once they hear my sorry excuse for French. Unrealistic? Probably. Terrifying? Absolutely.
So, fellow expats, francophones, and bi-linguists: please do feel free to share how you may have gotten over any of your personal barriers to speaking another language. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for a life raft to save me from succumbing to the 20,000 leagues of lexicon I seem to be sinking in (or getting eaten by un requin français).