Le Cafe du Matin

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The feeling of learning a new language is physical. My french class is only an hour and a half but I come out warn down, wanting to do little else but sleep on the train-ride home. 


The good thing about practicing journalism early in my writing career is that the craft (done right) is humbling. Implicit in the idea of reporting is the notion that the person you are talking to actually knows more than you. This is not always true; sometimes you just want to get people on the record. But in general the subject of your reporting has a knowledge which you would like to acquire, and that fact--often manifested in you posing embarrassingly basic questions--is humbling. They have power over you. And you must submit.

That's French class for me. It is an hour and a half of being stupid. Even when you know the answer you can feel your brain creaking along trying to form the words, and then place them in the right order. Sometimes you actually think the right answer, and then your mind says something different--vous allez when you meant vous avez

The interesting part is how your brain begins to hunger for that feeling of stupidity. I should speak for myself, and my own want of mental masochism here. The first couple weeks were tiring. It's still tiring. But I like the tiring, and not simply because the tiring means new knowledge, and new mental pathways, but because I consider it the accomplishment of my life to sit still for an hour and half and take it all in.

I have talked at length about my problems in school, and my general inability to stay in seat as young person. But I find myself faced with an old question: How bad do I really want it? It sounds simplistic but, for my life, I believe in it. I'd much rather learn by being dumped into a village where no one speaks English. That would be natural for me. But the closest thing I have is this. So then what? I don't want to die having only seen through English eyes.

We learned Lundi Matin our third day in class. I memorized the words before I knew what it meant. Indeed, I still don't know what it means. Something like "The Prince, The King and Queen came to see me, but I wasn't home. The prince said; 'We'll come back tomorrow." 

Roughly. I don't know the words. Please don't spoil the fun by telling me. I like how it all unfolds over time.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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