Alexander is fifty-eight years old and a dedicated Francophile when he decides that he is going to take the next twelve months and become fluent in French, even if it kills him (and it tried to). He took French briefly and without much enthusiasm when he was much younger but he is ready to really devote himself to learning the language. He attends a conference about language acquisition and although the science of it is against him reaching the level of fluency he desires, he is not deterred at all. He proceeds to try all sorts of ways to learn French, interactive computer programs, Rosetta Stone, French language Meet-ups, corresponding with French speakers via email, even two weeks of serious French immersion classes in France. And in the midst of his quest to beat the odds and learn the language, he is faced with serious and recurring heart issues as well.
As he attempts to re-learn, retain, and learn afresh, Alexander also addresses the mechanics of language learning as an adult and the belief that language learning in children is fluid but not in adults, the governmentally sanctioned Academie Francais and its quest to preserve the purity of the French language, the history of the language itself, his attempts to think as a Frenchman and his attempts at French culture (like his day long croissant making--delicious but ridiculously time-consuming). He discusses the vast difference between French and English, the gender of words and the lack of rationale behind said gender assignments, the nerve wracking question of whether you "tutoyer" someone (use the familiar "you" as opposed to the formal "you"), and the incomprehensibility of conversational French as versus formal French.
The book is a nice combination of factual information about the French language and language acquisition and personal anecdotes on Alexander's part about his not altogether successful struggles to learn French. The tone of the book is self-deprecating and mostly light-hearted (although some of the medical crises are not as light). Alexander is funny and both he and his quest come off as tres charmante. The end result of Alexander's year to learn French might surprise some readers, or it might not, but it is a a fitting ending for sure. I still think it would be fun to try and pick up the language again myself but I somehow suspect that if I followed that interest, it would, as Alexander suggests with his subtitle, charm me, seduce me, and nearly break my heart too.
Thanks to the publisher and LibraryThing Early Reviewers for sending me a copy of this book to review.