Semester in Lyon: expressing myself in a different language

SPM blogger Alexa Buechler writes about the ups and downs of learning a second language

Every day I hear, speak, write, read and think in French. 

Obviously most places I go outside of my apartment require French. My classes are taught in French. I speak French with the cashiers at grocery stores. I order food in restaurants. And at the beginning, we’d ask for directions in French.

My classmates and I only have one common language. So my international friends and I speak French to each other.

However, it is really difficult to appear funny or intelligent in a second language. It’s a completely different ball game than asking to have a baguette at a local patisserie. 

I want to be myself and show my personality, but I have holes in one of the main ways humans express themselves: language.

It becomes especially challenging when the person I’m talking to is also speaking a language that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to them either. Also, there’s the cultural difference, so what’s funny to me isn’t necessarily funny to them and vice versa.

One of my friends who is Syrian told me that I was the age to be married off. I didn’t realize it was a joke until he laughed at the face I made and told me it was a joke. Finally, I joked back that I didn’t think my boyfriend would like that too much. 

But I also hear, speak, write, read and think in English. 

I speak to my friends from America and the United Kingdom. And most people switch to English as soon as they see I’m American. I write this blog each week. I frequent an Irish pub on the weekends.

So I use both English and French on a daily basis, which made me face a surprising hurdle. Sometimes I can’t remember a word in either language. 

One day, I was speaking French in my classes and to my international friends, and one of my American friends asked me about the English word for the thing we use to cook with on the stove.

I looked at her blankly. I couldn’t remember the word for “pan” or “skillet.” But I also didn’t know the words in French. It wasn’t until that night when another one of our American friends reminded us.


Or I’ll spell the word in French because it’s similar to the English word. My laptop had to spell check the word “apartment” at the beginning of this blog because I spelled it “appartement.”

However, I know I can laugh at myself for forgetting English or thinking someone wants to marry me off because it’s all part of the experience.

Reach the blogger at or follow  @alexa_buechler on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this blog are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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