Before beginning my exchange, I wish that someone had emphasized the difficulties that I would face while trying to learn French while abroad. Through my first two years as a BIB student, I noticed that professors and former students are quick to mention the exciting cities and activities that we will experience while abroad, but often fail to mention that learning a new language is not as easy as it appears to be. I really think we (as BIB students) live in a bit of a dream world and when we receive a good grade in all of our first and second year language classes, we assume we’ll be fluent without really gaining any practical experience in our new language. In this blog post, I really want to inform future exchange students about the work that is necessary to truly become bilingual.
Firstly, I left Canada with what I thought was a fairly strong foundation in French. I had taken French courses up to FREN3702 and in 2012 I lived in Quebec City for a month and a half for the Explore Program (which is a program I highly recommend by the way) to further improve my knowledge of French. I was confident that upon immersing myself in French culture, I would become bilingual within just a few months. This however, was definitely not the case!
It is so easy to get caught up in travelling, taking classes in English and avoiding Francophones in embarrassment of your English/Quebecois accent, which is a “horrible sounding accent mix” according to one particular bitter grocery store employee (I’m totally not holding a grudge). However, during your exchange I hope that, like me, you will hit a point in which you are determined to really learn whatever language you may be learning.
So, I am telling you what I wish that someone had told me…. THAT LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE IS HARD WORK.
Your exchange is about being courageous and maybe doing things you wouldn’t do in another environment. Maybe that’s cliff exploring in Budapest or skydiving in Interlaken (which is still on my Europe bucket list) or maybe it’s something as simple as going to a language exchange event in which you’ll word-vomit the French language for two hours and feel happy about it. Overall, there are countless steps that you can take in order to really improve your French. I am strongly encouraging you now with this blog post to TAKE THEM.
As you may have noticed, in my all of my previous blog posts I’ve included lists and this one is no different!
Voila! A list of ways to improve your French:
Take French classes with real-life, human French students
First semester I chickened out a little bit by taking only one French-language class and noticed hardly any improvement in my French apart from my listening skills. Now, in order to showcase my flawless English/Quebecois accent that French grocery store employees love so much (okay, so maybe I’m holding a little grudge), I am enrolled in three complete French classes. One is a class that may be about wine and cheese and the other may be a French-language class that I’ve already taken…but they still count! Surrounding yourself with native French speaking students actually gives you the opportunity to learn informal expressions, how to speak to someone within your own age group (ex. Tu vs. Vous) and most importantly, how to dress well! It’s not an exaggeration when people talk about how well-dressed the French are.
Get a part-time job
Babysitting and tutoring are probably the best options. Currently, I am babysitting three children for six hours a week for a company called Speaking Agency. Although the goal of these jobs is to teach English, there is a very small chance that your students or the children you babysit will be highly proficient in English and will therefore rely on you speaking French. I highly suggest getting a relaxed job like this because not only are you significantly improving you French, but you are also getting paid. Also, in a world where McDonald’s is almost double the price of McDonald’s back home, having a little cash flow is not a terrible thing. It’s win-win!
Partake in language exchanges
Language exchanges are seriously everywhere. In France, there is a company called Franglish.eu that organizes language exchanges every other day, and native English-speakers are actually in high demand. In addition, many cities in Europe have Polyglot cafes, which are bars in which people form all over the world who are looking to learn or improves another language will meet informally to talk to native speakers of said language. Finally, hiring a tutor is another option, which I have actually done. Overall, I very highly recommend at least trying a language exchange and you may actually meet a native-speaking friend there.
Stop going to bars and cafes that your exchange student friends recommend
Yes, these are probably really cool bars and cafes but they’re also probably very centered around an international (English-speaking) environment. Stop going to Breakfast in America and The Great Canadian Pub because it’s familiar. You’ll be surprised that you can live without milkshakes and poutine for a while…. or at least tell yourself that you can! Besides, once you find a bar or café centered around young locals, YOU become the cool international student. People actually may start to see past the bags under your eyes from watching Netflix for the past six hours and view you as the cool Canadian that you are.
Finally, I am now going to end this blog post by saying, in the best nagging-mom voice that I can express through text, yoooouu neeeeed tooooo immmmerrseseee yourrseeellvvveessss.
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