Bons Mots In a New Language

Sarah Begley is a staff writer for TIME.

When Lauren Collins left her provincial North Carolina hometown, she writes, “no one would have guessed that I would become an American living in Switzerland with a Frenchman I’d met in England.” But that’s exactly what happened. And when one falls for a Frenchman, one must learn French.

In her emotional, erudite memoir When in French, the New Yorker writer documents her linguistic labors, including the missteps–she accidentally tells her mother-in-law she gave birth to a coffeemaker–on the road to mastery. At times she expounds on the history and philosophy of language; at others, it feels like catching up with a clever friend you haven’t seen since college.

But the most intriguing question posed is as much about identity as language: Are you someone else when you speak and live in a non-native tongue? “I wanted to speak French and to sound like North Carolina,” Collins writes. “I was hoping, though I didn’t know whether it was possible, to have become a different person without having changed.”


This appears in the September 26, 2016 issue of TIME.
Tap to read full story

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com


Dear TIME Reader,

As a regular visitor to TIME.com, we are sure you enjoy all the great journalism created by our editors and reporters. Great journalism has great value, and it costs money to make it. One of the main ways we cover our costs is through advertising.

The use of software that blocks ads limits our ability to provide you with the journalism you enjoy. Consider turning your Ad Blocker off so that we can continue to provide the world class journalism you have become accustomed to.

The TIME Team