Posted by: communicationcoach | September 9, 2007

Language Learning and Life Lessons

It often happens that one piece of learning teaches us something in another domain. And so it was, one day this week, when I met with my French tutor. Three important life lessons showed up for us.

Live in the present
I was tangling my tongue and twisting my brain to conjugate some nasty verb in one of those peculiar tenses known only to French-speakers. Nothing slows a conversation down better than the future irregular subjunctive past, or whatever it was. Madame stopped me and said. “If you stay in the present, it will be simpler for you.”

She’s right – and not just for speaking French. In life, what happens when we are speculating, fantasizing or worrying about the future? Or looking backward, whether it’s to lament or wax nostalgic about the past? We’re stuck. No forward movement. No growth. No sense of control. No fun. Life is lived fully only in the present, when we occupy the space and the moment we’re in.

Go! Go! Go!
Madame also revealed that, “We don’t really need to use the future tense at all. We have the verb ‘aller‘ (to go). Don’t struggle to say, ‘I will be singing,’ which is hard to get your mouth around. Say, ‘I’m going to sing.’ ”

Without going into the details of why this is the most brilliant and liberating piece of advice ever given to me, I will simply say that this lets you put a reliable verb you know and love and can use without thinking in front of any verb in its easiest form (the infinitive). Voila, you have replaced the need for the troublesome future, altogether. Where life is concerned, if you stop fussing with the future and just GO, you’re in motion, in action and in the game.

Get rid of all the shoulds
To say, in French, that you have to do something, there is a horrible arrangement that involves a verb that translates roughly as “to must” which is followed by whatever you have to do expressed in a hideous verb tense that bears no resemblance to the verb as you know it. It is a headache waiting to happen. Madame’s prescription for this mal à la tête? “Just get rid of all the shoulds. Do it. Or don’t do it.”

In life, this whole idea of ‘should’ can totally tie us up in knots. We feel resentful, overwhelmed, and picked on. Just who says we should? Often it’s nobody. Often it’s some notion that we dreamed up when we little kids for reasons long gone – and we let it run our adult lives. Yes, let’s get rid of it.

As a coach, as a communicator and as a learner, when I ponder these three ideas – live in the present, get going, lose the shoulds – I have to say it’s good advice, in any language. Merci Madame.




  1. Oh! I don’t even know Madame and I want to say thank you – and thank you for this post, I’ve been so lost in a funk of my own morose creation, and needed these three simple/profound lessons, which I learn and lose and learn again – which means, I suppose, that they’re not learned – or just grasped coldly, intellectually, not fully known in my heart.

    In any case, thank you.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Shara

    It’s strange how we keep learning the same lessons again and again. Perhaps that, too, is like learning a language. If you practise enough, it becomes part of you.


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