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Speak French To Me: Trip abroad lends credence to notion of learning from our mistakes

There is a big difference between knowledge and intelligence. 

Every person has knowledge, to some degree; people know things like facts, how to do things or how to find things.  Intelligence, on the other hand, cannot always be learned.  It is the ability to learn different things without necessarily being taught. 

Before leaving the country, I had come to terms with the idea that even though I have studied French for more than four years, I would most likely struggle.  I knew that this trip to France would be a learning experience, and that I would need to practice a lot before I became comfortable with a new culture. 

I, and many others like me, had the intelligence to know that even though I had some knowledge of the culture and the language, I didn’t know everything. 

Others, however, did not. 

There are some people who believe that intelligence, and admitting that one may not be perfect, are not important if they have knowledge. 

Unfortunately, finding out that they don’t know everything, and weren’t as good as they thought, is a lot more difficult in a country where they neither know the culture nor the language perfectly.  It’s a rude awakening that causes them to be stressed out, anxious, homesick and all around frazzled. 

Many people here, like myself, were ready to fail, misunderstand and misspeak.  We know it is a big part of the learning experience.  But with that in mind, I walked up to the guichet with my shoulders back and my head held high to buy my train ticket and ask for directions. 

I was congratulated. 

It was unbelievable really.  I, who had been expecting to be misunderstood and lost for at least a few weeks, was congratulated for being foreign and speaking bon français. 

I thought it must have been a fluke, a little bit of luck.  But my luck continued on the train, the bus and at the hotel.  I almost cried when I met my host mom and on my first night with her and my two roommates, I fully understood the majority of our conversations. 

I hadn’t even been in the country for more than 12 hours, and I learned my first real lesson.  Knowledge is good and can take you far, but if you have intelligence, you will gain the knowledge and the wisdom that an experience has to offer.

Because I had not expected to be perfect, and because I expected to work hard, I was able to let my type-A, perfectionist personality relax.  And when I relaxed, I was able to speak French without worrying whether or not it was the right pronoun or whether or not my accent was spot on.  

I haven’t started classes yet, and those too I’m sure will be difficult.  But with that in mind, after the past three days, I know it will not be impossible.  I’m no longer afraid to make mistakes, because I know that is how I will learn. 

As for those others, who struggled a bit on their first few adventures:  I hope they learn, sooner rather than later, that it is OK to make mistakes and that in the end, it may really make all of the difference. 

Danielle Limon is a freshman studying journalism and a columnist for The Post. Ever had crepes of wrath? Email her about it at

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