I often give myself a hard time about my French-speaking ability. In the summer of 2001 I was fluent and could hold down a casual conversation, albeit with a noticeable American accent, or read a book or newspaper article only slightly more slowly than I would in English. I found Le Mariage de Figaro easier than I remembered Shakespeare was. Six years later, after no practice other than two easy college classes and one or two American movies dubbed into French as I channel surfed past the Canadian cable channels*, I'm worse. My accent would be more noticeable, my vocabulary more limited, my slang outdated, and my reading comprehension at a less advanced level.
But today I was amused to find that maybe I've been underestimating myself. This morning I was stuck for a word in an article, to contrast one looming problem at a local institution with some renovation projects recently completed. How to describe them all? "Changes"? Way too generic. "Improvements"? Too biased, and besides, it only really applies to half of the stuff I'm talking about. "Restructuring"? Too much of a business buzzword, and anyways, it's also not all that accurate. I finally came up with another word: "bouleversement"? Perfect even though it sounds kinda formal, exactly what I mean, applicable to both the recently-passed examples and the future one, it's just in the wrong damn language! So I went over to http://www.freetranslation.com/ and typed in "bouleversement" and it gave me back "upheaval." Huh. Sure enough, it fits the context fine. There it goes, into the article.
For whatever reason this happened, I thought it was funny that the only appropriate word I could think of for a story was in the wrong language, and I needed help to translate it to English.
Maybe I should have asked the other French-speaking reporter instead of looking it up, though. I would have earned a quality funny look.
* And being roped into helping my sister with her French homework for both high school and college classes. And talking to people in my guild in World of Warcraft whose first language is French. So, not as out of practice as I normally think of it. And to be clear, this is just something that kinda bugs me. There are some things I really beat myself up about, and this is not one. I've tended to think that I could get back to my peak of French fluency with just, say, two weeks really immersed in a French-speaking environment.