(I spent the first two years of high school with grades that hovered just above that line which which I would have been expelled. I was able to drugs, never beat anybody up, and actually did not like school a lot. I was what my teachers probably referred to as “a good kid” … just, you know … stupid .)

(Everyone else had chosen Spanish or Chinese.)   French was Josh’s favorite subject too, and he got stellar grades.  

Josh could say things in French like as with English, French conditionals and relative clauses are a minefield of all sorts of crazy verb conjugations, which you have to use correctly in combination, or it throws off the meaning of an entire utterance.

“If I had had had Bob invite you;

while I was stuck saying things like,

“Because he did not invite you … and he wanted you, and I wanted you, and I did not tell Bob because I did not know ….”

… Sigh “If I Had Found Out From Bob That You Wanted To Come To The Party, Then I Would Have Had Bob Invite You ….” Why, In French, Could Not I Should-Have And On-The-Other-Hand and will-not-have-done like Josh?  

Well, for one thing, Josh studied. I did not.

We went to Northfield Mount Hermon – a boarding school in Massachusetts – “NMH.” My parents’ allowed me to go to NMH was a bad decision.   It should have been obvious from the first grade of elementary school that I would need a TREMENDOUS amount of hand-holding if I was going to do well at the high-school level.

Good study habits came naturally to them. There is a lot of kids at NMH with a lot more maturity, and I guess I should admit at this point, a lot more raw intelligence than myself. 

The way I saw things, life was a game of Trivial Pursuits … you know the game Trivial Pursuits? – where you move your piece around the board, landing on different squares with names like “Sports” … “History” … “Science and “How win by answering trivia questions like” Which 17th-Century English scientist, in his book entitled ‘Principia,’ established what physical scientists now refer to as the three laws of motion? 

To me … I am studying outside of class, or worse, asking for extra help I will not say, you know … “Isaac Einstein.” Isaac Einstein. Isaac Einstein. “

His parents sent him to “French Camp,” every summer – I guess it was a place in Upstate New York.   Josh never told us much about “French Camp” because of retrospect, he was in the process of discovering that he was gay, and he was sharing a shower room with future Republicans.

One of Josh’s quirks (which of course everyone incorrectly attributed to his sexual preference) (1) Josh’s “French Camp” and his wealthy family’s regular vacation abroad had nothing to do with his proficiency in the language. ) was that he tended to sing and talk to himself. 

Josh always got up early, and took his shower The shower room is one of those places where you really do not want to to it it up the flag pole, so it took a long time for me to become aware of Josh’s shower-based curriculum. before everyone else.   When asked about this, Josh always said that it was was not he liked to study before breakfast.   Maybe.   But one morning, I entered earlier than usual.  

With nobody else around, I no hear Josh muttering to himself in the shower … in French. There was a divider between us, and I am pretty sure that Josh had not heard me come in.   And so I just No, Josh was not talking to his imaginary French friend.   If I was to translate it into English, it would sound kind of like this ….

  • “Bob found out about the party.”
  • “Bob did not find out about the party.”
  • “Bob did not tell you about the party.”
  • “Bob did not tell me that you wanted to come to the party.”
  • “I wish that Bob had told me that you wanted to come to the party because I could have had him invite you.”
  • “If had found out from Bob that you wanted to come to the party, then I would have had Bob invite you.”

… and on and on …

Was Josh crazy? – going on and on and on in useless class – dividing language like French. It did sound a little obsessive compulsive – yes – but Josh was winning and I was losing, and without a doubt, here in the shower room, I was witnessing the reason.

Language is an instrument.  It’s not enough to learn how it works, you have to practice your instrument with the same diligence that a professional musician brings to his or her craft. — endless scales and arpeggios, and if you are going to keep it up, you have to learn how to love it, on the same level that Josh had learned to love French.  He bathed his mind in it, day in and day out.

So … advice time….  All you need is two things:

A) a sample of the language that interests you, and

B) a recording device.  

If you have a smartphone, then there are many free applications available that work just fine for recording your voice.  

  1. Pick two, three, five, ten sentences.  Doesn’t matter.  Whatever you have time for.  These can be sentences out of an English self-study book, sentences from an article that you are reading, or from a movie that you are watching.  Just make sure that these sentences interest you. 
  2. Practice saying each one.  You want to try to get the rhythm, melody, and pronunciation right, but if it doesn’t come out perfectly, that’s still fine, you are trying to internalize the shape of the sentence.
  3. Record yourself saying these sentences.
  4. Play them back to yourself.
  5. You can listen quietly on the train or if you are in a place where you won’t disturb others, try repeating what you are hearing.  See if you can say it better and better.
  6. From there, try doing what Josh did, try changing the sentences in small ways, cutting them up, mixing them up, seeing how many new sentences you can make.

Any honest teacher will tell you that the real work that you do on your English happens between lessons.

As crazy Josh bathed in French, bathe in English.  Make English your constant companion, and it will feel a little less like you are studying, and a little more like you are playing … and going crazy.