When in French

When in French

Love in A Second Language

Book - 2016
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A language barrier is no match for love. Lauren Collins discovered this firsthand when, in her early thirties, she moved to London and fell for a Frenchman named Olivier--a surprising turn of events for someone who didn't have a passport until she was in college. But what does it mean to love someone in a second language? Collins wonders, as her relationship with Olivier continues to grow entirely in English. Are there things she doesn't understand about Olivier, having never spoken to him in his native tongue? Does "I love you" even mean the same thing as "je t'aime"? When the couple, newly married, relocates to Francophone Geneva, Collins--fearful of one day becoming "a Borat of a mother" who doesn't understand her own kids--decides to answer her questions for herself by learning French.

When in French is a laugh-out-loud funny and surprising memoir about the lengths we go to for love, as well as an exploration across culture and history into how we learn languages--and what they say about who we are. Collins grapples with the complexities of the French language, enduring excruciating role-playing games with her classmates at a Swiss language school and accidently telling her mother-in-law that she's given birth to a coffee machine. In learning French, Collins must wrestle with the very nature of French identity and society--which, it turns out, is a far cry from life back home in North Carolina. Plumbing the mysterious depths of humanity's many forms of language, Collins describes with great style and wicked humor the frustrations, embarrassments, surprises, and, finally, joys of learning--and living in--French.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2016.
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9781594206443
Branch Call Number: 448.0092 COL
Characteristics: 243 pages


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IndyPL_SteveB Nov 23, 2018

A fascinating and funny narrative of an American writer who marries a Frenchman she meets in England. They move to Switzerland and only then does she realize she needs to learn French. But this is not just a book about love or learning French. Collins discusses the history of language, the arguments over how we learn language, the history of French, and the boringness of living in Geneva. Collins points out that learning a new language changes the way you think, because languages both reflect and influence the culture. Part of the reason she needed to learn French was discovering that her husband, although fluent in English, had many habits, phrasings, and attitudes about life and love that are inseparable from the language he grew up with. They needed to be able to communicate in both English and French to truly understand each other.

The book is filled with an astonishing variety of concepts, as Collins tries to translate her own thoughts for the reader, to get us to see how important language is – how important understanding of *other people’s* language is.

Jun 06, 2018

Typically a reader of fiction, historical fiction, and sci-fi, I was surprised to find I really enjoyed reading this book. It was slow at the start, but once I got into it I found it to be a fun and engaging read. Not only that, I've found myself on a handful of occasions mentioning concepts from this book in conversation with friends, co-workers, strangers at a dinner party, etc. Some really interesting food for thought in regard to how our language shapes us culturally and personally. Worth the few hours it takes to read!

Dec 17, 2017

This book is not only boring, it's boring in great detail. Nearly half of it is about the author's unremarkable U.S. childhood (ex: a trip to Disneyworld and Epcot Center with such stunning revelations as the fact that Epcot lumberjacks' plaid shirts were made from lightweight fabric, due to the Florida heat). She spends a great deal of time griping about Switzerland, where she lives with her French husband. The author describes herself as so inept at French that she can't even manage to shop at Ikea - then when she gets around to taking a language class, she tests into an intermediate level. Hmmm. Bottom line? Your valuable reading time would be much better spent on a more worthy and interesting book.

Jul 07, 2017

Beautifully written memoir about language acquisition.

Jul 03, 2017

When Lauren Collins falls in love with French Olivier in London, she believes that love can overcome all obstacles. When they move to French-speaking Lausanne, she decides to learn French so she can converse with her husband in his native language. What follows is a challenge that keeps on going and going and going to the point of calling her mother-in-law a coffee machine. Chapters are titled with verb tenses and explore the history of language as well as Lauren's personal struggle to speak fluent French with her husband and his family. Idioms take on a whole new meaning. The American "having your cake and eating it too" becomes the French "to want the butter, the money, and the ass of the dairywoman". A fancy restaurant in France has an English sign that reads "In hamburgers we trust. Because we like it. When it's hurt hard." Even simple words can take on different meanings -- being special in English translates into being weird in French. As much a history of language as a memoir, Collins explores life in a new culture by learning a second language. In a world dominated by Mandarin, Spanish, and English speakers, the author shares the French dedication to maintaining a pure French vocabulary through sheer persistence and dedication. A good choice for the language lovers in your life.

Mar 22, 2017

This book had some interesting information about languages throughout history and cultures. However, the book just made me mad: at the author, at French language and culture, and at what the author believes are universal truths about people in bilingual relationships. I myself am married to a person who speaks a different language than I do, so I really found some of the author's anecdotes about bi-cultural marriages off-putting and untrue.

Mar 07, 2017

For me this has become a kind of stealth book that makes a persuasive case for learning another language. I found it deceptively low key but days after finishing the book, my mind kept turning over some of the ideas in here. This is also a beautifully written memoir about creating a new family. It’s got a really nice feeling about it.

ArapahoeJane Feb 17, 2017

It's rare for me to read a book and be faced with (English) words that I've never run across. In this way, the book was a fun challenge. Beyond being an interesting read, it has the potential to expand one's vocabulary.

Dec 09, 2016

Very good from a New Yorker staffer

Nicr Dec 02, 2016

Entertaining and educational memoir by an American journalist married to a Frenchman. Living in Geneva, and attempting to communicate with her in-laws and to understand her husband culturally, she commits to learning French. She recounts the rewards and pitfalls of language acquisition and adds to her personal experience with historical and scientific perspective.

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