I USED to joke that I spoke French like a 3-year-old. Until I met a French 3-year-old and couldn’t hold up my end of the conversation. This was after a year of intense study, including at least two hours a day with Rosetta Stone, Fluenz and other self-instruction software, Meetup groups, an intensive weekend class and a steady diet of French movies, television and radio, followed by what I’d hoped would be the coup de grâce: two weeks of immersion at one of the top language schools in France.
“French resistance” took on an entirely new meaning as my brain repelled every strategy I employed. Yet my failure was in fact quite unremarkable. Advertising claims notwithstanding, few adults who tackle a foreign language achieve anything resembling proficiency. In the end, though, it turns out that spending a year not learning French may have been the best thing I could’ve done for my 57-year-old brain.