LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

When in French: Love in a Second Language


by Lauren Collins.

When in French is part memoir and part study of language, as Lauren Collins journeys from being a non-french speaker to fluent. Along the way, she dips into history, philosophy, the psychology of relationships and culture, and more.

I enjoyed this book a lot. Collins shares her mistakes, predicaments, and triumphs with honesty, carrying the reader along with the real-life issues involved with not just living in a different language, but working out what does and doesn’t translate between cultures too. She provides many laugh-out-loud moments, but also stretches of more thoughtful introspection as she considers, for example, the differences between her own East-coast-American upbringing, and the stiffness of Geneva. The characters that pepper the narrative (from the author’s nudist mother-in-law to her sexist brother) are beautifully portrayed, and although I was interested to follow her digressions (into idiosyncrasies of other languages, etc.), I was always keen to return to her story.

A fascinating insight into many aspects of language divide, perhaps most importantly on how translating words and translating meaning are two different things.


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