Vous sortez de la zone américaine.

Vous sortez de la zone américaine.

voo sor-tay dlah zoh nah-may-ree-KEN. Click below to hear this.*

You are leaving the American zone.

That’s what we wrote on our sign, in 17 languages: You are leaving the American zone.

Over 50 years ago, my family moved into a different house, with two bedrooms on the third floor (counting American-style). Those fell to my sister Jean and me. We were in high school. She was learning Spanish, and I was learning French. I was barely conversational; she had a headstart on me. Neither of us remembers what led to our decision, though I suspect it had something to do with excluding parents and our younger brother from our communication.

Our sign went at the foot of the stairs. No English was permitted on the third floor. We did a lot of girl-talk, in both languages and a combination of the two. We made mistakes, asked our teachers how to say this or that, compared expressions, laughed a lot. It worked. Our mother spoke French when she came upstairs. Our father never came upstairs. Our brother spoke pig Latin, until he started studying German, at which point he came upstairs just to bug us. We had fun and we learned.

Listen to Jean speaking French in the present day here, if you haven’t done already. And then scroll back another day to hear our mother.

*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file:



2 responses to “Vous sortez de la zone américaine.

  1. la soeur ainee

    Ah yes, the ancienne zone americaine! It was a brilliant idea. Served very well to make language-learning a purposeful pursuit. Quite a bit like living in a university French House or Italian House, I should imagine. Nowadays, lacking easy access to native speakers of Spanish, French or Norwegian, I practice by talking to myself while doing repetitive tasks such as pulling weeds or ironing. No one there to straighten out my errors, of course, but it does serve to keep the languages on the tip of my tongue, and it’s amusing and free!

  2. I love that story. It’s part of our family history, worth preserving for generations to come.
    It was fun to talk with you the other day. I wish I could have been more fluent, but thank you for giving me the chance.
    Love, Maman

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