The cardinal rule of TAPIF is simple and two-fold: push yourself to speak French and avoid speaking your native language. As you can tell from the title of this post, I did the complete opposite. Not only did I make zero effort to speak French. I managed to coerce everyone I interacted with on a regular basis – the English teachers I worked with, a teaching assistant, my Spanish roommate – to participate in what I affectionately refer to as my “English-speaking cult”. There were times where speaking French was unavoidable, such as conversations with the caretaker of my apartment building and my bank adviser. However, for the most part, I excelled at only speaking English.

It’s only in retrospect that I recognize how I robbed myself of an opportunity. Generally, I’m not one to harbour regrets, because you can’t change the past. However, it’s worth considering how much better my language skills would be, and in turn how much easier it would be to integrate into French society, had I seized every opportunity to practice when I first came to France.

I started this post telling you how much of an overachiever I was at speaking English, and not because it’s my native language. Anyone who has ever spoken to me knows that I’m likely the loudest person in the room. I tell stories and have witty remarks. In the right environment, or any environment, I’m engaging and charismatic. And I’m rarely afraid to speak my mind. In English, I’m downright interesting. Yet when I speak in French, I’m a diluted version of that person. I have to concentrate in order to understand everything being said, and I struggle when people start to talk over each other. It’s impossible to crack jokes because I don’t have a grasp of French humour or slang. You can forget me volunteering any comments on what’s going on because I’m too self-conscious about not knowing a word or whether I conjugated a verb correctly.

The truth is, it was easy being a francophone in Jamaica. Most people are impressed that you speak French at all and there are very few who can understand and correct you. Being a francophone in France is nothing special; in fact it’s a marker of intelligence. Call it frustration or call it what it is – fear. And rather than risk looking stupid, I preferred to crusade the English language.

Nonetheless, I missed the point. In order to get better at French, I have to risk looking stupid. Accepting that I’ll be bad at it for a while is a better motivator to get better than never trying. Another great motivator is a lesson that I’m borrowing from a Ted Lasso marathon; be a goldfish. Often times I was so concerned about making mistakes that I would either not say anything or dwell on everything I didn’t say properly after the fact. But in order to communicate, you have to keep going despite possible errors. And dwelling on them made me want to communicate less, not more.

As I said, you can’t change the past. So it’s better to look at how I can improve going forward as a renewing assistant. In order to integrate into French society (or make a fair attempt to), learning French is crucial. Even if that means conquering my fears and risking public embarrassment. Feel free to ask me in six months which one is better: my French or my tolerance for shame.