Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Benefits of Failing at French

By WILLIAM ALEXANDER, NYT, JULY 15, 2014

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.

In the last few years, unable to hold a list of just four grocery items in my head, I’d begun to fret a bit over my literal state of mind. So to reassure myself that nothing was amiss, just before tackling French I took a cognitive assessment called CNS Vital Signs, recommended by a psychologist friend. The results were anything but reassuring: I scored below average for my age group in nearly all of the categories, notably landing in the bottom 10th percentile on the composite memory test and in the lowest 5 percent on the visual memory test.

(More here.)

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