One of the best ways to learn a language is to immerse yourself in an environment where that language is spoken. That was my prime reasoning for studying abroad in France for an entire semester: to ameliorate my French speaking skills. After living here for two and a half months it has become apparent that even though I am surrounded by the French language all the time, there is always a little extra effort that can be put in to really make sure I am getting the most out of my experience.
The most obvious first step is taking a class. I am in an intensive French language program so we take French classes every morning. When I arrived in Cannes I took a placement test and was placed at a very appropriate level for me. It was not so difficult that I would be lost the whole time but it was difficult enough to challenge me to improve. My French class is nice and small so I have the opportunity to actively participate thus helping my speaking skills. At the beginning of class we typically learn a new grammatical concept and at the end of class we have time for discussion. We have talked about everything ranging from our lives at home to the French election happening in the coming weeks. Because I attend an international college, I get to hear stories from people all over the world, learn about French culture, and speak better French.
My program also offers the opportunity to take a seminar on an aspect of French culture. These seminars are offered in English and French. I chose to take a seminar about French society in French so give me additional time learning French in the classroom. The college also offers seminars on Art History, Politics, Theater, and Cinema!
To really get the full immersive experience you have to take the knowledge you learn outside the classroom and apply it to the real world. Luckily, as soon as I leave my residence hall I step into a world where everybody speaks French. Whenever I go to stores and restaurants I communicate in French to the best of my ability. If I have a problem with getting a ticket at the train station, I try to resolve the issue in French. My proudest problem solving experience in French was when I was at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and was able to get a ticket to the top for free by telling the worker I was an American student who was studying in France for the semester. Each successful interaction I have in French feels like a proud moment for me and helps boost my confidence in the language that much more.
When I visited Rome this last weekend my French skills also ended up coming in handy. Because Italy is located directly East of France there are several French tourists who visit the country on a regular basis. I was able to meet new people in Rome and practice my French with them as well. I was pleasantly surprised that I would have the opportunity to practice French even outside of France.
If you really want to get practice in a language, you really need to speak it as often as possible. There are several Americans that attend my college which makes it very tempting to speak English very often. We have done a few things to combat this temptation. When possible, we try to include other non-American students in our conversation that way the only shared language that we have is French. This is a very practical way to ensure that nobody slips into English. Sometimes when we are hanging out in a group of only Americans it can be a little more difficult to continue speaking in French but it definitely possible with a little self-control. Whenever we are at a café or taking public transportation we make it a point to speak as much French as possible.
Sometimes, though, it is just more comfortable to speak English. You may lack the necessary vocabulary or you might just be tired but that doesn’t mean you have to completely stop learning. A great way to practice some new vocabulary words is to just randomly insert them into an English conversation. When mes amis et moi were on Spring Break we did this a lot and it turned out to be both amusing and helpful at the same time.
It doesn’t matter if you are brand new to your host country’s language or if you have been speaking it for a very long time. There’s always room for improvement and that improvement always follows some good old fashioned practice.