Humor of Vocabulary Cards in French is from Me Talk Pretty One Day, a humorous book partly about struggling to learn French, by David Sedaris.
Here is an excerpt from the chapter See You Again Yesterday in the book Me Talk Pretty One Day:
“I began the practice of learning ten new words a day, [words in French for:]
I found my [French] words in the dictionary, typed them onto index cards, and committed them to memory while on my daily walks to the neighboring village [in Normandy].
By the end of the month, I’d managed to retain three hundred [French] nouns, none of which proved to be the least bit useful.
The next summer we went to France for six weeks, and I added another 420 words, most of them found in the popular gossip magazine VOICI.
‘Man-eater,’ I’d say [in French].
‘Who are you talking about?’ my neighbors would ask.
‘What social climber? Where?’
On my fifth trip to France I limited myself to the words and phrases that people actually use.
From the dog owners I learned
‘Who shit on the carpet?’
The couple across the road taught me to ask questions correctly, and the grocer taught me to count.
Things began to come together, and [in French] I went from speaking like an evil baby to speaking like a hillbilly.
‘Is them the thoughts of cows?’ I’d ask the butcher [in French], pointing to the calves’ brains displayed in the front window.
‘I want me some lamb chops with handles on ’em.’
By the end of our sixth trip to France, the house was finished and I’d learned a total of 1,564 words.
It was an odd sensation to hold my entire vocabulary in my hands, to look back through the stack and recall the afternoon I learned to effectively describe my hangovers.
I kept my vocabulary in a wooden box built to house a Napoleonic hat, and worried that if the house caught fire, I’d be back to square one with ‘bottleneck’ and ‘ashtray’ and would lose the intense pleasure I felt whenever I heard somebody use a word I’d come to think of as my own.
I’m determined to learn as much French as possible, so we’ll take an apartment in Paris, where there are posters and headlines and any number of words waiting to be captured and transcribed onto index cards.”