Flirting with Frenchby William Alexander
“A delightful and courageous tale and a romping good read. Voila!” —Mark Greenside, author of I’ll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do) William Alexander is more than a Francophile. He wants to be French. There’s one small obstacle though: he doesn’t speak la langue française.</i>/b>/i>/i>
“A delightful and courageous tale and a romping good read. Voila!” —Mark Greenside, author of I’ll Never Be French (No Matter What I Do) William Alexander is more than a Francophile. He wants to be French. There’s one small obstacle though: he doesn’t speak la langue française. In Flirting with French, Alexander sets out to conquer the language he loves. But will it love him back? Alexander eats, breathes, and sleeps French (even conjugating in his dreams). He travels to France, where mistranslations send him bicycling off in all sorts of wrong directions, and he nearly drowns in an immersion class in Provence, where, faced with the riddle of masculine breasts, feminine beards, and a turkey cutlet of uncertain gender, he starts to wonder whether he should’ve taken up golf instead of French. While playing hooky from grammar lessons and memory techniques, Alexander reports on the riotous workings of the Académie française, the four-hundred-year-old institution charged with keeping the language pure; explores the science of human communication, learning why it’s harder for fifty-year-olds to learn a second language than it is for five-year-olds; and, frustrated with his progress, explores an IBM research lab, where he trades barbs with a futuristic hand-held translator. Does he succeed in becoming fluent? Readers will be as surprised as Alexander is to discover that, in a fascinating twist, studying French may have had a far greater impact on his life than actually learning to speak it ever would. “A blend of passion and neuroscience, this literary love affair offers surprise insights into the human brain and the benefits of learning a second language. Reading William Alexander’s book is akin to having an MRI of the soul.” —Laura Shaine Cunningham, author of Sleeping Arrangements “Alexander proves that learning a new language is an adventure of its ownwith all the unexpected obstacles, surprising breakthroughs and moments of sublime pleasure traveling brings.” —Julie Barlow, author of Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong
A charming memoir by a passionate Francophile. At the age of 57, Alexander (52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust, 2010, etc.) decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of learning French—the first step, he thought, to transforming himself into a Frenchman. "I have such an inexplicable affinity for all things French that I wonder if I was French in a former life," he writes. Even though many second-language researchers believe that after adolescence, few students "will ever achieve near-native proficiency in a foreign language," Alexander was determined to try. His 13-month marathon of language learning included five levels of Rosetta Stone, two Pimsleur audio courses, hundreds of podcasts, all 52 TV episodes of French in Action, two immersion classes (one, in France, lasting two weeks), reading dual-language books, watching TV5Monde, emailing with a French pen pal and Skyping with another. The author also studied the history of the language, its unfathomable assignment of gender to nouns, and some curious idioms, and he considers how vocabulary reflects social assumptions: Why, he wonders, is there a word for husband but not for wife? For son but not for daughter? After all his efforts, he realizes that he has learned "a lot of French," but "I have not learned French. And that is a major distinction." But he did make significant progress: At the beginning of his project, he had an MRI to determine his brain's activity when listening to French or Japanese, which he knows not at all. A year later, his scans show markedly more activity when hearing French, and he scored higher on a college entrance exam, too. But most exciting was his vast improvement on a cognitive assessment test. "Studying French," he announces joyfully, "has been like drinking from a mental fountain of youth!" Alexander's love affair with French, he concludes in this wry and warmhearted memoir, has reaped unexpected rewards.
- Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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- 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Meet the Author
William Alexander, the author of two critically acclaimed books, lives in New York's Hudson Valley. By day the IT director at a research institute, he made his professional writing debut at the age of fifty-three with a national bestseller about gardening, The $64 Tomato. His second book, 52 Loaves, chronicled his quest to bake the perfect loaf of bread, a journey that took him to such far-flung places as a communal oven in Morocco and an abbey in France, as well as into his own backyard to grow, thresh, and winnow wheat. The Boston Globe called Alexander "wildly entertaining," the New York Times raved that "his timing and his delivery are flawless," and the Minneapolis Star Tribune observed that "the world would be a less interesting place without the William Alexanders who walk among us." A 2006 Quill Book Awards finalist, Alexander won a Bert Greene Award from the IACP for his article on bread, published in Saveur magazine. A passion bordering on obsession unifies all his writing. He has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition and at the National Book Festival in Washington DC and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times op-ed pages, where he has opined on such issues as the Christmas tree threatening to ignite his living room and the difficulties of being organic. Now, in Flirting with French, he turns his considerable writing talents to his perhaps less considerable skills: becoming fluent in the beautiful but maddeningly illogical French language.
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