I had long been exposed to French. I had even lived in Montreal. But I never spoke the language well. I wasn’t really literate. I couldn’t understand spoken French much at all.

Then one day I decided I was going to learn the language for real.

I picked up a French novel and a French/English dictionary and started to read while keeping a vocabulary notebook.

I put in a good hour a day.

After a few weeks, I totally fell in love with the language. French literature thrilled and stirred me.

After about a year of steady reading, I started in on watching films.

Then I used Meetup.com to find French speakers who wanted to get together socially.

Today, I speak and read French with complete ease. I think in French when I’m with French speakers.

My life is enriched in ways that are difficult to fully describe. Having another language is like having direct access to another culture. To ways of thinking. To worlds of art that can be experienced only hazily in translation.

I have new networks of friends, some of whom don’t speak English at all.

All this because I decided to try something new. I decided to sit down and struggle to read and learn, even though it would be hard and progress would be slow.

The benefits are so broad and profound, and so unpredictable, that it’s hard to overestimate them.

Trying something new for me has been quite a thrilling ride.

Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot. jamesfinnwrites@gmail.com