Seventh Grade

What I noticed when making notes on my stuttering is that on the whole, my confidence is cyclical. I’ll expand more on this later, but in short, it meant that by the time I reached fifth grade, I was feeling very good and confident. Then back to zero in sixth. By eighth, I was good again. Then as a freshman in high school, back to zero. College was the same. As I grow familiar with people and the process, things definitely get easier. The point of this is that although a new job might seem intimidating at first, it’ll eventually smooth out. So I shouldn’t let stuttering get in the way of seeking out new opportunities.

Onto seventh grade.

Keeping in mind that since in sixth there were still two other wings of kids who I never even saw, seventh would mean even more mixing and more new kids. We had three “teams” (instead of the wings), red, white and blue. I was on the blue team. I think at this point the school also starting grouping people by their ability. Seventh grade really ended up being a mid-point of confidence. On the one hand, I was developing my sense of humor, having a fun time, and hanging out with friends who I still talk to today. On the other, there was French class.

Our school offered three languages starting in seventh grade — French, Spanish and German. I have no idea why I chose French. French 1 was actually split across seventh and eighth grade. French 2-5 was then offered in high school for grades 9-12.

A person can probably get away with not participating in math class. Or science class. Or maybe even English class. But not French. You were there to read, write and speak another language. At first I thought this would be cool and fun. Then when I opened the book and saw the words for ‘he’ and ‘she’ are ‘il’ and ‘elle,’ I knew it would be a long, long year.

Not only did our teacher speak in French to us, she expected us to answer in French to her. It turns out that I’m extremely self conscious with regards to speaking another language. (Even to this day — I’m in Saudi and barely speak any Arabic and haven’t learned; I also barely speak any Urdu to strangers even though I know a good bit from having it spoken at the house during my childhood).

To handle this, I simply had to work harder on the reading and writing part at the expense of speaking. I would usually know the answer to whatever was being asked, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to raise my hand and offer up a few French words. If called on, yeah, sure. Looking back what makes me sad about this is that I didn’t have anywhere to turn. I didn’t know. Nobody ever said, ‘hey, look, I know you’re unsure about pronunciation and the words, but don’t worry. Just give it a try. Everybody else is in the same boat.’ Also, ‘nobody expects you to be fluent. Just listen to anybody speak a non-native language for the first time. They’re not conjugating anything right.’ Or at least work in a smaller group after school.

You have to remember that in those days you couldn’t just go online and find a local French-speaking family to practice with. There was no online. (Aside: so let’s say there’s no internet and some French-speaking person puts up a flyer at the library. It’d have a phone number, right? What, so I’m cold-calling people at age 12 to learn a language I don’t even want to speak? Right.)

I’m sad because it turns out that even 17 years after high school, I still remember a good deal of French. I could probably get by if you threw me in the middle of France. I know this because I sucked it up recently and spoke French to a French family here in Saudi. But I still hesitate to speak French with them because I’m so self conscious. And I don’t know why — they’d never laugh at my attempts.

I’m curious if any of the other kids felt as self-conscious or not. Maybe they didn’t care, they just threw out the words? Was I more so because I was someone who stutters?

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