Europe, France, Language, Recent
Comments 4

Learning French in France

So, obviously, I’m in France now. It has only been a few days, but when you move abroad the first few days feel like a lifetime–and you are typically most aware of nuances and differences around you in these moments because every part of you is on hyper alert.

Before I came to France, I was studying French at Alliance Francaise in Minneapolis. It was a pretty good set up; two hours two days a week with another student and our teacher. It seemed like plenty of time and energy put into learning the language. I mean, four hours a week? In a semi-private tutoring situation? I mean, four hours a week is what you typically get in a university setting, and the smallest class I ever had for languages was 9 people. So thats a great amount of learning in a week right?

Now that I am studying at IFALPES, I have four hours a day. 5 days a week. Plus time talking/interacting with my host family and any interactions I have when I am out and about for the rest of the day. Now I’ve changed my mind–this is a good amount of learning!

The view out the window of my classroom. It might be raining on and off all day, but that doesn't stop everything from being beautiful!

The view out the window of my classroom. It might be raining on and off all day, but that doesn’t stop everything from being beautiful!

With this system, I am using words in all my conversations that I learned yesterday or even just this morning. I am constantly looking up and asking my teacher about words that I need to know in order to go about my daily life. How can I buy a stamp and what do I need to say to the person at the post office? How can I convince my host mom that I actually love cheese, I’m just too full and exhausted to keep eating it after we have already had a full meal? What the heck is quel que chose and why does everyone use it all the time? (Turns out it means “something,” so its completely understandable that it shows up everywhere!)

Another benefit, besides just having more classroom time and staying with a host family, is that the school is in France. This seems obvious, but it means that students are coming from all over the world in order to learn French–and I mean ALL over the world. My class has 7 students: one boy from America, one boy from Whales, two boys from Libya, one boy from China, one girl from Ukraine, and me from America. For a class that small, that is a lot of variety. The 7 of us have four different native languages, and while most of us have at least acceptable English for small conversations, it makes more sense to use French to communicate with each other. (Except for the American boy, who always tries to speak English with me DURING CLASS, which is like completely taboo in my mind unless you are severely lost and need quick help or need to communicate something.)

My classroom at IFALPES

My classroom at IFALPES

Anyway, even if it is just a small conversation like “hey how are you?/I’m fine and you?” it seems to make sense to use French because we are coming from all over and don’t necessarily have the same mother tongue. Even in my experience in Japan when I was going to KUIS through the IES program, I was physically at the university, but I was in a classroom of 10 other American students and a teacher hired by my program. Though every once and a while we would make an effort to use Japanese before or after class, we were all American with a native language in common, and it was so much more of an effort to speak Japanese–which got even hard when we became such good friends and wanted to have deeper conversations than we were capable of having in our second language.

My teacher at IFALPES is not the same every day either, which is also great because it allows not only different teaching styles but different speaking styles and accents to be heard–which is a better representation of the “real world” because not everybody speaks with the same intonation or pace. And beyond the teachers for my immediate section, I also have the sometimes opportunity and sometimes need to communicate with other staff members at IFALPES and with students in different levels. This morning I went on a tour of the town with one of the staff members, and she spoke French most of the time. I wanted to sign up for an activity this weekend, so I needed to use French to communicate with one of the staff members in order to do so.

Yesterday, when we had a 20 minute coffee/tea/snack break, all the classes of students went to the same area to hang out. Determined to talk to someone and maybe even make a friend, I introduced myself to a girl standing to herself. Not so intimidating right?

Wrong. Turns out she is super nice, and happens to be a native Chinese speaker and very very good at French. So while we tried to have a French conversation, it was incredibly difficult because the little we knew about each other made us want to talk more. Only my language level is so low that it was nearly impossible to do so. T_T Even though it was frustrating, it was still a great moment, because as I mentioned before it is nice to talk with peers in a mutual second language instead of reverting to a mutual native language, and it is also nice to hear a variety of people speaking French–even if at this point I am not able to hold up my end of the conversation very well.

At IFALPES, my class is either held in the morning or in the afternoon, and it changes every other day. This is great because it means that I can explore the city or do other things, and I have varying times of the day when I am able to do so. While having four hours a day where a teacher speaks only French to me and I attempt to communicate with my classmates in French is fantastic, and having a host family to return home to and attempt to converse with over dinner is good (if slightly embarrassing and traumatizing), my thoughts are still in English. I return home and, even now, I sit at the table in the living/dining–across from my host sister who is watching Grey’s Anatomy dubbed in French, and near my host mom who is cooking in the kitchen–and I blog in English. I text my family and friends, in English. I hide in my room in the evening to decompress from the day. Watching TV shows in English.

I know its only day three, but I can’t help but think that if I truly wanted to “immerse” myself in French, in France, I should try harder to keep my personal use of English to a minimum. Okay, okay, I know its only day three and I am still adjusting to a lot of new situations. But I think this is a key part of learning a language–and it is something that is not dependent on me being in France, but it is strangely something that has decreased while I have been in France. And when I have moments like I did yesterday, when I realized that I really wanted to get to know this other girl but didn’t have the language ability to do so, it really makes me want to buckle down and learn the language.

Before arriving in Annecy, I frequently listened to French music during the day, I would look over my French textbooks or attempt to read a few pages in some of the French books I have, and I would watch a TV show either originally in or dubbed in French. But being in France, the moments I have when I can listen to music or read a book or watch TV, I am so overwhelmed by everything around me that I crave the comfort of my native language (or strangely Korean, because 99% of the music I listen to here is Korean >_<).

Long ramble short, my input of French has increased immensely in many ways just by being in France and by studying through a French language program here. However I feel like I still need to put in effort in my out-of-class times, particularly in the time I have to myself at night. So tomorrow, after I wake up at the ungodly hour of 6:00am and get to school by 8:00am for my four hours of classes, I am going to go book store hunting in the city to find some children's books/novels/cookbooks for me to have while I am here and also to bring home with me so that I can try to maintain at least some level of French input once I return home.

What do you think about learning languages? How important do you think it is to learn a new language in a country that speaks the language? What do you do or what would you do to increase your language input while you are at home or abroad?

Thanks for reading! I'm keeping another list of things that surprise me, and while I didn't bring my camera with me today, I *fingers crossed* will bring it with me tomorrow and will take pictures of my book hunting adventure! じゃ、また明日ね!A demain!

This isn't related to the post, but be jealous. I wandered around an open air market all morning tasting fruits and vegetables and desserts and cured meats. ^_^


  1. I struggled with this too studying abroad in Spain—I spoke Spanish with my host family and Spanish in the classroom, but there were other Americans in my program, and I blogged in English, and watched TV shows to decompress in English and listened to songs on my walk to class in English (though I tried to mostly stick to a Spanish playlist). I think it’s healthy to take that time to decompress in your native language. It’s important to avoid overwhelm. But if it REALLY bothers you, maybe try translating pieces of your blog posts to French or your text messages in French (you don’t actually have to send them, but it’s a good practice).

    P.S. I’m so so jealous of your adventure. Your photos are giving me a serious case of wanderlust!

    • It’s definitely hard to find the balance between “slacking” with your learning and becoming overwhelmed. 🙂 I guess you have to start planning your next adventure!!

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