Je ne parle pas French, either, but I think I might have concocted a brilliant scheme to learn it. It’s different from my usual brilliant schemes to learn French in that:

  1. It actually has a chance of success (slight though it may be, it’s a real chance. I normally settle for completely imaginary chances of success);
  2. It’s not completely boring;
  3. It’s actually less expensive than most options, outside a larger initial investment;
  4. I don’t have to sit in a fucking ten-foot-by-ten-foot classroom with a bunch of strange, strange people all having basic conversations with each other.

    “Bonjour, Jerry. Comment ca va?”
    “Comme ci, comme ca. Il neige.”
    “Oh…um…c’est…c’est…fuck. Um…il fait froid!”
    “Oui! Froid! Il fait…um…shit…je suis…um…”
    “La coeur gelée de Naxxramas vous attend!”

I only know that last line because of this movie (which is the awesomest thing ever, ever, ever and is basically the reason I started raiding. The sheer, unmitigated triumph at the end…fuck yes). I’ve long fantasized about somehow working it into a conversation though. I can also say “rotting flesh” and “you cannot escape me.” Some day I will whip these out on a French teacher and it will be awesome.

Anyway, back to my original point – in case you haven’t figured it out yet (despite me talking about learning French on a blog about Warcraft and quoting the smexy, smexy French!Kel’Thuzad (don’t get me wrong…his British accent in English is wonderful, but it makes me want to cuddle him more than cower in fear (the patrolling Mr. Bigglesworth doesn’t help this instinct). He sounds much more frightening and wicked in French), I’m considering learning French by playing World of Warcraft.

Last night I downloaded (télécharger! See? I learned a word already) the 10-day free trial of the French World of Warcraft, registered a second account (compte! I’m on a roll!) and rolled up a Gnomish warrior on a French server (mer…um…shit…Merekage? Marcaj? SomethingthatsoundslikeMerekage Zangar). I debated playing the French game on an English server, but immersion is supposed to be the best way to learn anything, and I’m fairly anti-social anyway. It’s unlikely I’ll have to talk to people often (in which case I can just dust of my handy “Desole! Je ne parle pas Francais!”…and look like a total tard because WTF am I doing on a French server, but still), but I will be exposed to them talking to each other. Hopefully I can pick up some (horribly misspelled, completely mangled) vocabulary through osmosis. Can’t wait to see a line of French, with the words “Chuck Norris” thrown in somewhere.

Failing that, it’s time to start reading quest text. On the upside, I already own a good French-English Dictionary and a Bescherelle (a conjugation guide) from a few years back when I was crammed into the aforementioned class room with the aforementioned strange people (“Tu as belle cheval.” “Um…I think you mean cheveux….”).

I should point out that I’m not trying to learn French from scratch. I have a background in French as a second language that English people would consider decent (and French people would consider atrocious). Similarly, my grasp of the language is considered good by English standards, and terrible by French standards. This may not be helpful to you, but I’m not quite sure how to describe how good I am or not at French.

Say there are two Francophones having a conversation about how one of them has a Pitbull and it chews up the furniture all the time. And the other one says they have a Chihuahua and it’s well trained and gets along well with the kids. I would be able to tell you that they are discussing dogs. I might be able to tell you that one is happy with their dog and the other is not. I might even be able to identify something about furniture and or kids if they’re talking slowly and clearly enough. But the finer details would escape me. For all I know the Chihuahua chews up the kids, and the pitbull gets along well with the furniture, you see?

I do better if I can read it, as opposed to hear it, but even then. Last time I tried to read French out loud it went something like this: “And so, the Minister of…uh…something travelled to the, no! Will be going to the…to…something…where he will have a meeting with the President of America and they will…something an agreement something trade. This will…something between the two countries.”

So my French is at an okay level to try something like this, but it’s still going to be a lot of work. I’m still going to have to look up every fifth word, and I’m sure the fucked up phrases the French use everywhere will continue to cause me extreme pain (“mis a niveau – WTF does that mean? Put…to…level? Put…give…put a level? Put…that’s mettre, right? To put?” It means upgrade, by the way. Had to ask, though. Transliteration failed me epically).

But tell me something…what’s more interesting? The “sentence” above about the Minister, in which I have no involvement, investment, or interest? Or the following:

“Last night, while I was sleeping, Defias…something came and something my cows. I want you to find…something and bring it to the something to the west of here. When you’re there, in order to prevent something from coming, you’ll need to something the stones and arrange them in the order of something. If you don’t, you’ll die.”

I mean, there’s a personal investment there. I don’t want to die. And I want to know what the fuck the Defias were doing to the cows (or then again, maybe I don’t). I’d also appreciate some info about the link between the two. In this case, not only is it worth it for me to pull out my dictionary and start defining some of those “somethings”, but I actually want to. It would actually be fun.

The whole endeavour will be helped by a couple things (or so I’m hoping):

  • I know this game like the back of my hand. As long as I stick to classes I’ve played through to Northrend so I don’t get hit upside the head with an ability I’ve never seen before, I don’t need the descriptions to know which buttons to press. I already know how to play, so my ability will not be impeded by the language barrier.
  • It’s been FOREVER since I last actually read through my quests, so doing so again, in another language, won’t be boring. I’m familiar enough with the material to be able to intuit some things, and the rest I can look up. Being familiar with the material means I’ll have a better grasp of context (which is absolutely crucial to fully understanding the appropriate uses for a word).
  • ”Language Drills” (i.e., trying to read and understand my quest text and what the NPCs are saying to me) are interspersed with long stretches of “killing shit” (i.e., killing shit). I can take out any frustration over the amount of work it takes to understand Joe NPC when he wants me to go kill 10 wolves on the wolves I need to kill. It’s like, I’m actually rewarded for doing the work with fun stuff. Which is not like my French classes at all. I was rewarded for doing work with awkward conversation in a language no one understands.
  • If I get super frustrated, or even lazy, and don’t feel like reading my quest text, I don’t have to. I don’t read it now and it’s written in English. Between Blizz’s map enhancements and my mods, I know where my objectives are. I don’t need to understand the why of it. I can just zone out and go and not worry about working at the French. You can’t do that in a class.
  • Even if I am being lazy, even if I’m not translating quest text, I’ll be seeing French everywhere. In the chat channels, in my quest logs, in the game interface…whether I want to take the time to understand it or not, it’s there and I’m exposed to it. This counts for more than you might think. I’ve learned more French over the years just by being around French people, than I have exchanging endless pleasantries with English people speaking French.
  • There is so much about the game that I’m familiar with, the “intrusion” of a foreign language into my play space won’t be offensive. It’s actually a relatively minor inconvenience.
  • It will be a 100% clean break (when I need one) from the daily stress of running a guild/raid group. They might be able to follow me faction to faction, and even server to server, but nobody’s going to bother buying a second account to follow me to a foreign realm. Also, I doubt I’ll tell them. It’ll be like the ultimate secret-alt. It’s not just not in the guild, it’s not in the country. And, honestly, the separation is good. Otherwise I would have English friends with me, which would somewhat dilute the immersion experience.
  • Fifteen bucks a month is a lot cheaper than twenty bucks an hour, which is approximately what French lessons cost assuming you’re not part of a huge-ass group (in which case it’s still a fuck tonne more than what Warcraft costs). And ultimately, I’ll get more out of it.

Which is not to say this is a perfect plan. There are already some cons I can see right off the bat:

  • Even in English, I am attracted to archaic words and syntax. I’ve been accused of it on more essays and papers over the years than I care to count. I’ve gotten into fights with teachers over whether a given phrase or word is actually archaic, and (when I inevitably lose that argument) whether it’s fair to dock me marks for using an archaic phrase in an English Literature course (it’s an essay on Shakespeare, I should be getting points for this!). It doesn’t help that the bulk of what I read is either classical literature or fantasy – both of which use archaic language. Warcraft makes its own use of archaic language (being a fantasy game), and I’m sure it’s no different in French. Except, in French I have no way of telling an archaic phrase from a modern one. This will likely result in idiosyncrasies in my use of the language, but meh. That’s no different than when I’m speaking my native tongue so I’m not overly concerned.
  • The chat channels in Warcraft, if the English servers are any indication, are not exactly pillars of the institution of language. I will have to be very careful to not absorb any common spelling or phrases from the chat channels too readily. Last thing I want to do is learn Trade Channel French. I think I would rather be unilingual forever.
  • This whole plan basically precludes me from doing any grouping for a long time. Until my French is at least at the conversational level, and I’ve gotten a solid grasp of the French equivalents for Warcraft slang (OMG! The acronyms! They’re all going to be different! Quick! What’s LFG in French?), it’s probably not a good idea for me to be joining groups. Mind you, lately they’ve all been silent, grim marches into death’s cold embrace, which I suspect is the type of experience that sort of transcends a language barrier, but still. Again, not a huge concern since I’m not a huge fan of grouping with strangers, but it does limit some questing/instancing options.

The more I think about it, the more excited I get, and I can honestly say I’ve never been excited about the prospect of trying to learn French. The prospect of one day being able to speak it, yes. But the whole…learning process? No.

And if I can actually do it while simultaneously playing my favourite game?

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