An Open Letter to the French Language

Ciao bella!

Wait, no –


Ça va? I hope you’re doing all right. It’s… well, it’s been a while. When was it we last saw each other? Oh yeah… for a month in high school. Although that short time together helped change my mind about you, it wasn’t enough, and the intervening years only widened the gap between us.

I thought we’d never see each other again, frankly. I flirted with Greek and Hebrew, had a fling with Russian (which I ended when she reminded me too much of you), went steady with German and finally got serious with Latin. I have to be honest, German and Latin really spoiled me – I got to pronounce every vowel and consonant. And the rules! I always knew where I stood with them. They were predictable, reliable, and – yes – a little harsh.

But linguistics poisoned me against you. Even though I know no single language is better than any other, I still ridiculed your tendency to eat your vowels and drop your consonants. I saw these linguistic proclivities not as the creative and enterprising innovations that they are, but as a sign of your laziness and decline. After all, you used to pronounce all those letters and syllables. Back in the 1400s.

As I grew up and more or less officially moved in with English, I thought less and less of you. After all, I wasn’t even seeing German any more, why would I try to reconnect with you?

Then we visited Brussels. I – erroneously – thought I could get by with my German. Technically, Belgium is a trilingual country, and I was on speaking terms with two out of three. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my due diligence until a few weeks before our trip, whereupon I discovered my error – Brussels is predominantly French-speaking. But I didn’t even want to talk to you, let alone catch up, so I fumbled through our trip, feeling awkward and clueless and lost at every step.

I returned to English feeling chastised and confused. My feelings for you weren’t what I had expected. I found myself increasingly annoyed at my own inability to understand you, and I grew angry with myself for not even giving you a chance. But no! It was your fault for being so ornery! I couldn’t be wrong. If you would just pronounce all your consonants, maybe I could understand you. Maybe if you just met me half way…

We fought. For the first time, and the last. I didn’t want to recognize my feelings for you. I didn’t want to admit I was wrong. But soon it became too obvious. All this time, you had waited for me. All this time, I demanded you meet me in the middle while I kept taking steps back. When I was refusing to even try to understand you, how could I expect you to change for me?

You know, we always cling the hardest when we’re about to let go.

This is all to say: je suis désolée. J’ai tort.

Can we try this again? Start at the beginning? I know we can’t pretend the rest didn’t happen, but I’m willing to give it a chance. I can’t promise I won’t trip on your elisions, or slip into a German accent, or bemoan your vowel choices, but I can promise to respect you. You are your own, beautiful language, with unique morphemes, a high density of final-consonant deletion, and a bizarre fixation on cows. You deserve to be taken seriously.

How about it?


P.S. Duolingo has been amazing at helping me understand you better. I'm glad you two are friends.