Do You Dream in French? and Other Common Questions

After a week of down time which has mainly involved reading and catching up on Downton Abbey, I thought I’d come back out of my post-semester hibernation and write a little about some of the common questions I get in my little corner of the world.

I really do LOVE my life as a graduate student in French Linguistics!

Okay, okay, let me clarify, MOST of the time I love my life. About the middle/end of the semester I tend to wonder what I got myself into, if I’m going to survive these years of nerd études, and if I was nuts to continue, etc, etc. However, I always come back to the realization that grad school for me is not about being an intellectual really. For me it’s more about wanting to find answers to questions through research and enjoying being surrounded by others who share similar enthusiasms. 🙂 Other than that it’s a constant fight for food, sleep, and coffee amidst piles of work that somehow miraculously get done.

I did a similar post a few years ago about the top questions I was asked when I was first starting off in graduate school in French.  I love getting questions about what I study, so I thought I’d answer some of the top ones I’ve been getting recently:

So, do you dream in French?

Yes….sometimes. If I dream at all, it’s usually school related. This consists of the typical fears of not turning in papers on time or just forgetting them, showing up to give a presentation at a conference in my pajamas, having students correcting my French while I’m teaching, not turning in grades, using the informal with an important professor, forgetting to read the books on my reading list before my exams, losing my sanity, running out of coffee…*deep breath* Whew! You get the picture, in any case…

Typically, I dream in Franglais (mix of French and English) with a random occasional Arabic preposition thrown in. It’s such a weird invention of my subconscious brain, I don’t even really know what I’m saying/thinking in some of my dreams, but somehow I manage. Really, I just live in a constant state of mixed mental lingo. It makes life more interesting, I assure you!

Lingu-Linguiii-Linguiiis-Linguine? You study noodles in France?


Linguistics? What exactly is that? It sounds intelligent.

The first queNouillesstion was asked partly in jest by someone I’d just met! I was visiting at a church and was asked what I was studying. As is typical of me as I’m waiting for caffeine to kick in, I tend to not speak clearly anyway and someone was looking for a way to tease. But, yes, it is little known that there is a program at Purdue devoted to studying French….noodles instead of poodles. You can probably find more details if you look into culinary arts à la française!

As for the second question, the simplest way of defining linguistics, is that it is basically the science of language. That’s a very, very, very broad definition since there are several different concentrations and areas within linguistics. One can study the minimal sounds and sound combinations with phonetics and phonology or you can even go as far as studying how a language is used by people around the world in sociolinguistics (quite fascinating!). One can study the structures of sentences in syntax or the meaning of words, phrases, and sentences in semantics or how to use theories to improve teaching approaches in second language acquisition in applied linguistics. Those are just a few examples. I’m glad it sounds intelligent at least since I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it all.

Wait, how long have you been studying French? I guess you’re pretty much fluent, right?

I should learn French

Fluent? Eh, I wouldn’t say so in the strictest sense of the definition. I enjoy speaking French, but I still have so many gaps in communication when I can’t think of a word or how to explain something or I forget the proper tense to use.  However, I would say that I am conversationally confident and unless the person is speaking very informally using slang I don’t know or another dialect, I can usually understand most of what someone says in French.

Is it hard to teach French?

Any teacher will tell you that it is not always easy teaching one’s content area. I won’t go into my entire philosophy of teaching, but I do enjoy creating a welcoming, fun atmosphere teaching French. I don’t always succeed and based on my student evaluations, I still have plenty to work on with teaching. Yes, it is challenging teaching a second language, but it’s really one of the best ways to improve one’s understanding of that language. For the most part, I love teaching French! I’ve had some of the best professors, and in my teaching I try to borrow and combine some of their techniques within my own.

When are you going to finish?


Okay, well, I’ll finish my schooling probably within a few years, but I don’t intend to really ever “finish” learning French. Do we ever finish learning English really?

Why French and not Spanish since you’re from Texas?

*sigh* This question sort of tires me, but I get asked it a lot.

I came from a tiny town in Texas where Spanish was widely spoken in addition to English. The logical language for me to have chosen would have been Spanish. I suppose I chose French because I’d always wanted to learn it and well, it was something different from what was expected. Sure, I can’t understand if someone is talking bad about me in Spanish which is probably a good thing anyway, but they can’t understand me when I speak French either. mwuhahahaha! Okay, I don’t use French for that reason either.

What is culture by your definition?

I was asked this recently by a grad student and also by a friend both in other disciplines when I started describing some of my current research interests in linguistics. You’d think it would be so easy to define, but the more I dig, the more I find just how complex and intricate it is. I think, to really to find what culture is, you have to zoom in to some of the tiniest details of a culture and then gradually begin to zoom out to see the entire picture. We typically do the opposite in our study of other cultures even our own. This is just some of what I’m looking at in my research.

To put it simply, there’s more to the French culture than this…



I love getting questions, so do keep asking them. Are there any common misconceptions or misunderstandings about what you do or study?

Until next time then, I shall be enjoying a cup of my favorite rich, hot, strong goodness, i.e. coffee. Do feel free to stop by for a chat! I’d love to hear any stories you have on the topic or suggestions as far as culture is concerned! The internet is a perfect place for such observations and discussions, I find.

Coffee painting

“Coffee” by Richard Diebenkorn


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