Wow, I can’t believe it’s actually almost the end of my study abroad experience. It’s been a little over three months now, and it feels strange to think that I may never see this place or these people again. I’ve learned a language, met irreplaceable people and had one-of-a-kind experiences that I will be forever grateful for. I’ve also fallen in love with and felt accepted by another culture: French culture.
I learned about their food, their jokes, their music, their everyday life, their history and their language. However, I feel as though there are many people who go to another country and completely miss out on these experiences, because it’s more important to them to take pictures and say, “I’ve been there before.” Now, this is okay, I suppose; to each his own, but there’s so much more to learn once you open yourself up and take in every ounce of the culture that you can.
So, I want to talk to you guys about things I did to get myself more and more comfortable with the culture and language of France.
1. Be respectful of both culture and language.
I can’t stress this enough. Don’t walk into the culture with your head full of stereotypes. I would advise you to go in with as little expectations as possible. Be a blank slate and let things surprise you. Also, be respectful to the people and their cultural differences, like with the language. Sadly, I’ve seen visitors to France get rather upset, just because something in the French culture doesn’t make sense to them — usually with the language.
For example, often times when native English speakers want to translate things into another language, they often try to do it word for word, but anyone who speaks another language or has learned another language or is learning another language eventually learns that you can’t always do that. Sadly, a lot of times people get furious and bad mouth the language, which can be highly offensive. Be respectful, please.
2. Be an active participant.
I think one of the most fun things for me to learn is slang, because it makes me feel like a native. If you’re practicing the language in school and you actually want to learn it, please note that you’re probably not going to be at speaking level by just doing those grammar exercises in class or your little Duolingo practice when you’re bored every now and again.
Don’t think of it as a class, think of it as an experience. Learn their foods; learn their news; learn their music; learn as much as you can about that culture. Really invest yourself in it. You want to think like a native and do native things.
Look online for help. Honestly, the internet has been such a blessing for me when it comes to being able to learn more about the cultures that I’m interested in. Everything’s on YouTube. Look online for communities of people who speak that language or better yet, find people like you, who want to learn the language and make friends. You already have a common ground.
3. Do “ordinary” things for authentic exposure.
I actually don’t really like doing touristy things to be honest. Yes, it’s interesting, but I feel like tourism is a shell of what it used to be. It feels as though there’s no thirst or desire to really learn about the culture. For me, I love doing ordinary native things. Since I’ve been in France, some of the things I love doing include riding the bus, talking to French natives, listening to French music, etc. To everyone else, yes it’s probably boring, but I adore it because it makes me feel closer to the culture. I even often use French Twitter and French Youtube to see what’s trending in their culture. These little things make big differences as time goes on. You won’t be a clueless tourist for long.
4. Practice the language as much as you can.
Lastly, practice, practice, practice. Even if it’s for 10 minutes a day. If you don’t, eventually you’ll lose the skill you acquired, and it will be hard to regain. A good friend of mine who lived in Spain for a year and who didn’t speak a lick of Spanish but now speaks excellently, told me that everyday she practices Spanish for half an hour. That includes reading, writing and comprehension. Now, if you’re lost as to where in the world you can find material to practice with, not to worry. I got you.
For reading, use your smartphone to download a newspaper app in that language. Also, put your phone in that language as that is a major, major help. You can also put subtitles on when you watch Netflix shows. When the characters say short phrases, read the subtitles and you’ll make the parallel.
For listening and comprehension, often times, people say natives speak too quickly for them. To make it feel a little bit slower, listen to songs on YouTube with the lyrics on the screen. Follow along and practice with that song. I’ve been doing that with Enrique Iglasias’ “El Duele El Corazon” for the past couple days now, and I’ve been singing it and understanding it more and more. So now, I can harass my hispanic friends with it.
Those were all the tips I could give. I’m not a language expert or anything; I’m just a blogger who really loves culture and languages and wants to help people on their journey. Also, remember not to be upset if and when you see people ahead of you in their progress. One day, with practice, you’ll get there. There will always be people ahead of you, so just be patient and keep pushing. I hope this helps!
This post was contributed by Corey Shaw, who is studying abroad with AIFS in Cannes, France.
If you are like Corey and want to experience French language and culture for yourself, take some time to explore your options to live and study in France with AIFS!