William Alexander is more than a Francophile. He wants to be French. There’s one small problem: he doesn’t speak the language. In “Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart” Alexander sets out to conquer the language he loves. But will it love him back?
Alexander eats, breathes, and sleeps French (even conjugating in his dreams). He travels to France, where mistranslations send him bicycling off in all sorts of wrong directions, and he nearly drowns in an immersion class in Provence. While playing hooky from grammar lessons and memory techniques, Alexander reports on the Académie française, the four-hundred-year-old institution charged with keeping the language pure; explores the science of human communication, learning why it’s harder for fifty-year-olds to learn a second language than it is for five-year-olds; and, frustrated with his progress, explores an IBM research lab, where he trades barbs with a futuristic hand-held translator. Does he succeed in becoming fluent? Alexander is surprised to discover that studying French may have had a far greater impact on his life than actually learning to speak it ever would.