What are the three main points in Me Talk Pretty One Day?

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The primary message that David Sedaris shares with his readers is to “be yourself.” David spent a lot of time worrying about fitting in, even though he knew that the class was an arbitrary collection of people with whom he did not need to interact outside the classroom setting. Each...

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The primary message that David Sedaris shares with his readers is to “be yourself.” David spent a lot of time worrying about fitting in, even though he knew that the class was an arbitrary collection of people with whom he did not need to interact outside the classroom setting. Each of them had a distinct reason for being there, and his reason was sufficient to justify his desire to improve his language skills. Initially, however, he questioned the validity of his presence in the class. Once he stopped questioning his own motives, his ability to understand improved considerably.

Another key point we can take away from Sedaris’s experience is that language is only one part of culture. Even though it is an important part, there are many other dimensions of culture that one must master in order to become comfortable in speaking a language, let alone gain fluency.

Part of David’s discomfort stemmed from his idea that as an American, he stuck out in a room full of Europeans. He thinks about his physical appearance compared to theirs, lamenting his old-fashioned, unstylish appearance. He also internalizes the teacher’s aggressive teaching method as personal cruelty, while she understood her techniques as effective.

This brings a third point, that of empathy. David learns to put himself in the teacher’s position as well as that of the other students. He stops seeing “French” culture as a solid block, a monolithic “thing” that he must penetrate or conquer. Instead, as he develops shared experiences with the other students, who are likewise struggling to find the French-ness within themselves, he also comes to realize that it is acceptable to share feelings with both students and teacher. “Understanding” and “speak[ing] the language” are related but not dependent on each other.

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Me Talk Pretty One Day,” a humorous essay by David Sedaris from his book of the same title, describes the author’s experience of taking a French language class in Paris. There are three main points in this short essay.

The first point is about insecurity. Sedaris lets us know that even though he is 41 and attending school for the first time in years, he still feels deeply uncomfortable in new environments. He notes that he thought confidence would come with age, but that has not happened; Sedaris feels just as unsure in this new situation as he has before. He is still the same.

The second point of the essay is to describe, humorously, an exaggeratedly cruel French teacher in order to illustrate a certain universality in human behavior. The teacher repeatedly mocks and ridicules her students until they begin to feel timid and ashamed. The students find themselves coming together for support even when they do not share a language. Sedaris proves that people are people, with good and bad behaviors, regardless of language.

The final point of the essay is that the struggle to communicate is an urgent and human struggle and that people have an extraordinary capacity to work toward understanding one another even in spite of obstacles.

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Sedaris starts out in this essay describing how difficult he found it to understand what was going on when he first arrived in the immersive French classroom. While he has other concerns, including the fact that he is older than all the other students, the first main point he makes in his essay is that we can study a foreign language for many years—Sedaris had spent many months in Normandy and "took a monthlong French class before leaving New York"—and still find ourselves completely out of our depth in a "sink or swim" situation. Being expected to speak a foreign language all day, every day, quickly reveals the gaps in our knowledge, which can be intimidating, especially given how often a language class puts us in an artificial situation in which we are expected to discuss things we would not normally need to talk or write about.

Next—and this is perhaps the key point of the whole essay—Sedaris describes the various curious behaviors of his French teacher, who had not so much good and bad days but "good and bad moments" and whose "abuse" quickly has an effect on her students. Rather than feeling empowered by the French lessons, Sedaris and his fellow students become afraid to use their French at all. Sedaris begins to put in extra hours, trying extremely hard to impress this teacher, but his "fear and discomfort" simply has the effect of his trying desperately not to have to speak French or engage with anyone outside of the classroom. The abusive teacher is not inspirational; on the contrary, "it became impossible to believe any of us would ever improve." Being taught in this manner, Sedaris suggests, is absolutely not optimal for learners.

Ultimately, however—and this is the third main point in the essay—sometimes, our affinity for a language, or any other subject, comes over us despite ourselves, regardless of our learning environments and when we least expect it. At the end of the story, Sedaris suddenly realizes that he can understand his teacher's every word. He observes:

Understanding doesn’t mean that you can suddenly speak the language. Far from it. It’s a small step, nothing more, yet its rewards are intoxicating and deceptive.

While Sedaris still dislikes his abusive teacher, his attitude has suddenly changed. The idea of being able to speak French moves suddenly from something impossible and out of reach, to something which is now a real thing on the horizon. The point Sedaris is making is that sometimes in learning, there are sudden moments of revelation and, however we come by these moments, they are "intoxicating and deceptive."

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