When In French: Love in a Second Language
By Lauren Collins
Penguin

Verb tenses are used effectively as chapter headings to organise this book, starting with “The Past Perfect” and ending with “The Future”. That alone should tell readers that this is no ordinary memoir about mastering a foreign language by falling in love with a native speaker. Lauren Collins, an American writer, tells of how she is persuaded to study the language of her Francophone partner when a move to Geneva introduces “an asymmetry”. The Frenchman becomes not only her translator but also her navigator and critic. And while disputes over their common language (his third, after French and Spanish) are wryly amusing and telling of the pitfalls of English, more stimulating is her exploration of language in general. Interesting theories of language evolution, acquisition and whether one’s mother tongue shapes one’s world view lend weight to her personal story, as do observations of the differences between English and French. This satisfying story of cross-cultural romance is, thankfully, not one of star-crossed lovers.