How not to learn French
This essay is going to be talking about my experience trying to learn French language while in exchange in Paris, France. I thought after a month I would be fluent as bird, but the reality after 4 months is something very different.
Going to my exchange, Paris was my dream destination and I got to go to it. As I studies French in high school for three years, I thought it would be walk in the park to brush up my memory in French language and dive deeply into it and come out as fluent French speaker. Well, this dream did not come anywhere near close.
I had made plans of how I would make so many new French speaking friends to surround myself with the language and learn the everyday interaction between friends and finally push my French to perfection. Imagine my disappointment, when I enter a class full of foreigners, who of which many did not speak French at all in any number of their language skills. I love all the friends I made in Paris, but as my studies and my friends spoke English and were mostly Mexican, I feel I learned more Spanish than French with them. Lucky for me, there was one French person in our international class, and I finally decided to bother her with my desire to learn French about a month before everything ended. She turned out to be very kind and funny, we became good friends. She even invited me to her birthday party in which I was the only non-French person in, which was a perfect opportunity to perfect my French. If only I had met her sooner.
The biggest disappointment to me was the French as a foreign language course I took from my receiving university. As the teacher had decided that if you want to learn French, you must do it only in French, which I found absolutely the worst possible way of learning. As a foreigner who is trying to brush up their French, you do not understand everything the teacher is saying in French, this makes it extremely difficult to learn any of the grammar related things she is explaining, because you don’t understand the words coming out of her mouth. As she asks, if anyone has any questions, you are not able to ask any as you don’t have the necessary vocabulary in French to form the sentences to describe your problem. As the teacher has created pressure to only speak French in the class, you feel stupid for not being able to do so and instead end up spending four months of French studies, not understanding what is happening around you, as you feel scared to ask help in English.
I also developed a huge anxiety for human interaction in public places as I always had to prepare myself for not understanding what another person is saying. This got so bad I even had a panic attack when exiting my apartment during the first few weeks of my stay. Despite this anxiety I pushed myself and spoke French in all interactions I possibly could and had to, such as restaurants, cafés, and grocery shopping. Due to this, I’m perfectly capable of surviving these human interactions now 100% in French. However, I still have anxiety of talking to servers, as I have to prepare the conversation in my head for the most part.
One good thing that came out of this language learning experience, is that I’m okey now with not knowing everything and looking like a complete idiot in front of multiple people. Meeting my one and only French friend also helped me to understand that even the French struggle with French, which calms me down. I’m also trying to keep in mind, that I’m a native speaker in one of the hardest languages in the world: Finnish. If I was able to master my way through all the allatiivi, illatiivi, ablatiivi stuff (Finnish grammar things), I’ll be able to master French. It’ll just take a lot more time than I expected.
Thing that I know for sure is that I’m not giving up. I have bought two luxury fashion related books in French that interest me so much, I must read them through, which pushes me to practice my French. Having now at least one French friend, has opened me the doors to a possibility of a lifelong learning experience as I’m be able to use my French with her whenever I want to. As my brain has been listening, reading and translating French to the point of exhaustion for 4 months now, I feel I’m in the perfect place to push myself forward towards fluent French.
However if possible, I would recommend you to go to a French speaking school, and surround yourself with French speaking people if possible for the time of your exchange to truly learn French quick.
Written By: Emilia Parikka