4 September 2013

My DELF Gielp

You may be asking yourself what is a DELF gielp? Besides being the two ugliest-sounding words ever put together, it's my new motto.

My Dead Poets Society-esque 12th grade English teacher told us a gielp is when you make a public statement of something you want to do, so you give yourself accountability to ensure you'll actually do it. He also told us he invented the word himself. (And I believed him, until just now when I looked it up. I discovered this isn't technically what gielp means. But whatever, I'm sticking with it.)

For example, he gielped to us, his bright-eyed class of 2000, that he would stop smoking. Although in retrospect he never said what he would stop smoking. That's just how Dead Poets Society he was.

So I've decided to gielp that I'll take the DELF exam. Otherwise known as the Diplôme d'études en langue française or the test to show how much French you know. My French tutor, Tchic, has been encouraging me to do it for a year or so. And every time I laugh in his face. 

You see, I'm the type of linguistic genius who can manage to take 4 years of Spanish, 2 years of Latin, 2 years of Italian, 1 year of Swahili (taught by Jane Goodall's BFF, no less) and 1 semester of Twi and be able to put together exactly zero sentences in any of these languages. I am not a language person. I blame it on my long line of family members who don't even attempt to pronounce a last name with more than 2 syllables. 

When Adam and I moved to Egypt, I remember the precise moment that I cried to him, "No one here speaks English! We will never get to know a single person in this entire country." I coped by watching a lot of Martha Stewart on Saudi Arabian satellite TV. But once I realized they were censoring out the Root Beer Float segments, I knew it was time to step outside my apartment. By some grace of Allah, I started speaking Arabic. Okay, it was taxi driver Arabic, but I could put a sentence together. 

The language learning didn't stop there. One Christmas Adam and I locked ourselves in our Cairo kitchen, opened the gas oven door for heat (little known fact: it gets stinkin' cold in Egypt during the winter) and taught ourselves how to read Arabic. It was like magic being able to read the signs in our neighborhood.  Seriously. Magic.

Our Egyptian kitchen. Arabic learning on display made possible by Post-It.

Then we moved to Congo and for our first two years looked for the Lebanese meat counter guy so we could tell him what we wanted in Arabic. This is how much we resisted French. Then I started tutoring an ambassador from a country I feel I shouldn't name, and he heard me "speak French" to Mamicho. He said, "You really need to meet my French tutor." 

And then I met Tchic. And he told me I was only a little bit "linguistically challenged" for spending so many years "learning" so many languages and having nothing to show for it. Over the next year or so the man taught me how to speak French. Something no fancy teacher, professor or tutor before him had ever managed to do.


Now I just need to take the DELF to prove it. Tchic is one of the examiners and says hundreds of Congolese take it at one time. It's mostly students who want to go to university in France. He says I won't feel out of place at all because sometimes there are Brazilians who take it. I told Tchic that if he thinks I would fit in amongst a group of Brazilians, then I don't trust his judgment on my ability to take the DELF.  

But I've already made my gielp. I will take the DELF. Even if the Congolese beat me in linguistics and the Brazilians beat me in beauty, I'll do it. 

At the end of the day, I'm pretty sure my AP English teacher never quit smoking. It's the gielp that counts.



  1. Well, I don't want to blow your cover, BUT, Sarah Sensamaust is a language godDESS. Oh yeah!

  2. I've always been sort of obsessed about the story of your self-imposed written Arabic language quarantine. I'm so happy there are photos to prove the extent of your dedication!

  3. Beowuuuuuulf!!!

    1. You got it! Beowulf, AP English at it's best. I think I'm confusing gielp with béot, but I like the awful sound of gielp better.

  4. I think the social media gurus are catching on to your stoner .. ahem... teacher's wisdom. There are people who Gielp their running goals by putting their daily runs on facebook etc... I wonder if it works? Maybe I need to gielp my swahili - though I'm not sure there's a DELF for it. Anyway, I loved this post. I too am a half assed language learner with "becoming fluent in a second language" at the very top of my bucket list. Good luck on the exam!

  5. Good luck! It'll be great... (I say this with deep empathy as someone who has studied the hell out of Spanish, French, and Latin, and can't string a sentence together either...one of these days, as an otherwise sort of competent person, I'm going to have to bust past my limit on the language thing.)


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