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Learning Motivation in Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

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In David Sedaris’ essay “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” Sedaris tells stories of his time in France, learning the French language, often through humorous stories. He explains how horrible his French teacher was and how that affected his learning and the learning of the other students. Anyone struggling to overcome something, whether it be a student struggling with a class or someone else, can relate to this essay and its message. People returning to school after a long period of time can also relate to some parts of this essay because of how Sedaris talks about his own experience with it. Sedaris’ essay focuses on motivating the reader to work hard for what they want and overcome their struggles and hardships, which is a lesson everyone has been told at least once in their life but needs a little reminding every once in a while.

Sedaris discusses what talking to the other students in the hallway before the dreaded class was like, something that every student can relate to. One of the students says, In French, “sometimes me cry alone at night”. Obviously, any stressed-out student reading this can relate to what this student said. Everyone who’s went to school has had one teacher or class that they didn’t like, or that caused them much stress. Readers can empathize with this student because they have had, or are having, similar experiences. This passage can also help the readers empathize with those who struggle to speak another language that is not their native tongue, showing that learning a new language does not come as easy to some people as to others. Pathos is the appeal in effect in this quote, playing on the stressed-out emotions of any student, or former student, reading Sedaris’ essay.

This awful class is what motivated Sedaris to work harder when it came to French. Sedaris explains it best when he says, “I took to four hours a night on my homework, putting in even more time whenever we were assigned and essay”. By explaining this, Sedaris shows that our attitude and our motivation is what matters when it comes to getting what we want, inspiring the reader. If we really want something, we will want to work for it until we have it. Anyone reading this would have had to struggle with motivation at some point in their lives, no matter what that motivation may be about, and perhaps their struggles inspired them to work harder to overcome it. When relating this quote to the previous one, it is obvious that no matter how hard someone tries, they will experience moments of desperation. They’ll struggle with what they’re trying to accomplish and possibly even feel like giving up, but it is mandatory that they overcome those obstacles to get what they want. Once again, pathos is the appeal being used here, appealing to the motivation and determination of the reader.

Of course, the most fulfilling part of doing a difficult task is completing it. Sedaris expresses this relief by saying, “For the first time since arriving in France, I could understand every word that someone was saying”. Sedaris, who was so convinced he was awful when it came to learning French that he would ignore phone calls and pretend to be deaf when spoken to outside of class, could finally understand a complete sentence in French. This happens when the teacher is insulting him once again, but this time he completely understands the entire sentence. He says that “the world opened up” when she told him that and with “great joy” he responded to her, asking her to insult him again so he can try to decipher what she’s going to say. Sedaris also uses humor in his essay, several times. One instance of humor in the essay is when remembering a time Sedaris was talking to his mother, he mentions how he and the other kids were expecting their mother to say she loves her children when listing off things she loves, but instead she said, “I love Tums”. Using this anecdote from his childhood can keep the audience entertained and engaged with the reading, and makes the text less daunting and serious, that way readers don’t feel overwhelmed by the negative anecdotes about his teacher. Pathos is the appeal used in telling the childhood story, it adds zing to the story that makes it intriguing to the reader.

Sedaris also makes a few mentions of his education before arriving to the class in France. Sedaris mentions that he took a “monthlong French class before leaving New York”. He also says, “at the age of forty-one, I am returning to school”. This proves how dedicated he is to his studies, coming back to school at an age where most other people in his situation may not have the courage to come back. This can help relate to readers who are around his age and going back to school. Like Sedaris, they may feel a tad uncomfortable with the fact that the majority of their classes are made up of young adults and teenagers. They may feel left out because of this. The main appeal in these two quotes is ethos, showing that he does have some credibility because of his education in French and general education. It also uses pathos as well, helping Sedaris relate to some of his readers.

Sedaris knows that one of the best ways to get a point across is by telling his personal experience with the subject that he is talking about. Through personal anecdotes and stories about his time learning more about the French language while staying in France he both keeps his readers entertained with humor and reminds them that motivation and hard work to overcome struggles and hardships is the key to getting anything we want in life. Sedaris leads by example here, showing how his motivation lead him to studying harder and focusing more in class, even though his teacher was terrible. All of Sedaris’ hard work and dedication pays off at the end of the essay, when his teacher is insulting him and he for the first time since class started finally “could understand every word that someone was saying”. If Sedaris made it through this class with this amount of dedication, anyone can make it through their struggle too. Any hardship that seems impossible now can be overcome with dedication and hard work.

Works Cited

  1. Sedaris, David. “Me Talk Pretty One Day.” 50 Essays: A Portable Anthology 5th Edition. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017. Pp. 333-337.

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