**this post was written on February 20, 2017 as a journal entry for Global Citizen class**
I spent last Saturday with someone I met at a language café. She lives in Salé and works in Temara. I spoke French with her for the whole time. That day motivated me to learn more French and it made me realize for the first time how thankful I am to be able to speak French here because it opens up a lot of opportunities when it comes to making friends, internships, and talking to more people.
When it comes to French, I have a love/hate relationship—to be honest, more hate than love. I came to Morocco not really being able to speak French. My French improved a lot over the first two months, but then I stopped making an effort—mostly because of the people around me, I guess. I’d befriended people who spoke only Darija, or who spoke Darija and French but hated French. I met more than a few people who told me (in French lol) about how they didn’t like speaking French, how French is the language of the wealthy, how people who speak French are rejecting Moroccan culture and are really pretentious and go to Lycée Descartes. I saw a negative correlation between the amount of French someone spoke and how much they wanted to be friends with me and it seemed like people who spoke a lot of French already had their own “group.” I’ve also heard from more than a few people that they don’t like French because people look down on them when they speak flawed French.
I was surrounded with interesting people who I liked a lot—and who didn’t like French. After hearing all of this, after having these discussions, I lost my willingness to learn French. Why learn French in a country where only a few people speak it anyway, where so many people have a love/hate relationship with French, where people hear that I’m learning French and then ask me why I would ever learn French? I remember that one person told me, “Here in Morocco, we don’t learn French because we’re interested in it; we only learn French because we have to know the language to find a job. If you’re not looking to find a job in Morocco, why learn French at all?”
I knew and still know very little Darija but the Darija that I do know gets me a long way. When I speak French I feel cold. People are more welcoming when I speak Darija than when I speak French. I like going to the medina and speaking Darija to the shopowners because then they laugh and ask about what I’m doing here in Morocco and so on. In the beginning, I spoke French to them. I told them what I wanted, bought my items, and left.
In retrospect, that was probably a naïve mindset, because honestly, knowing French in Morocco gets you a long way too. It gave me advantages and access that I took for granted. Because of French, by the second month I was functional and independent and could navigate people and everything by myself. French is an easy language; I learned it quickly, and it helped me a lot. It got me my internship, it helped me make friends (even though my friends didn’t like French, I still spoke to them in French if they didn’t feel comfortable with English), and even in the first few weeks I was able to do things with French such as get cellphone data at Orange and go to the tram office and ask them about their plans for a tram pass. Darija takes time to learn, French did not take time for me. I have to be thankful of French because I realize that if I didn’t have it, I would be leading a lot less independent of a life. But then my Darija would be a lot better. So I’m actually pretty conflicted. I still don’t really like French. But I realize that I should probably learn more of it.
Deutscher said that languages shape how you think based on words that may or may exist in a certain language, or based on certain constructions like vous and tu that exist in French but not in Darija or English. But as an exchange student in Morocco, a complex mix of languages, languages shape how I think in a different way. When I choose a language, I am choosing how I want to communicate with the person, keeping in mind that my choice impacts how the person views me.