Learning French in France

In 2005, I decided that it was time to take my basic French language skills to a new level, so I decided I would spend a couple of weeks or so on a language immersion program in France.

Decisions, decisions!

Taking the time off work was not a problem as I had a backlog of vacation.  The harder question to solve was where would I go in France for this.  At that time, I had already lived in Paris a few years before and had worked on and off in the late 1990s in the area near Nice/Cannes.  I felt in the former I would have too many distractions that would keep me from focusing on the studies.  The latter was more interesting but an area of the country I already knew and I wanted to use the time to see a new part of the country.  A friend told me about his experience of a few weeks in Tours, in the Loire Valley and, since I had never been to that part of the country, that helped me settle the question of where.  Luckily, there was a language school in Tours.

My French Family

I arrived in Tours after a few days of touring the area (of which I will write more separately).  I had chosen to stay with a host family to maximize the amount of time I would spend speaking and hearing the language.  Also, I figured it would be an interesting cultural experience to see how a family lives in that part of the country.  I was surprised that I got to stay with a family with a pretty large house.  I was expecting a row house or a flat/apartment type of residence.  The house had a very large yard and nice garden and was across the river on the outskirts of town.  My room was on the third story and was very spacious and had a sofa, a bed, a desk and a half bath.  This half bath in particular consisted of the shower and a sink, not quite what I would consider the most important half for a third story bedroom…  especially, since the second floor bathroom was the master bedroom’s and the ground level’s bathroom was on the far side of the house.  I quickly learned to not drink too many fluids late in the evening and also to take care of things prior to heading to bed.  It was a tricky staircase and maneuvering it in the middle of the night incurred a risk of death by falling…

The family had 3 teenaged boys and a little girl.  It was great because the levels of language, then, varied in the household (the dad was an engineer and the mom some sort of physical therapist).   With the youngest of the boys, I learned to play video games in French.  Those games would have been hard in any language and, on top of that, I had to learn the words for the joystick, buttons, actions, etc. and half the time, as he was instructing me as we played, he was speaking at a rate faster than the speed of light.   Hardest of all was the 4 yr old girl who thought I was another kid because my language skills were not communicating “adult” to her.  She bossed me around a bit as apparently, not only did she think I was a kid, but she must have thought she was the older one of us.

The School Experience

In terms of the school, I got tested on my first day and placed in a class of moderately skilled learners.  I signed up for daily morning class and then two afternoons.  I am glad I did as it is exhausting work to be immersed in a language you are not fluent on.  Even with only 2 afternoons of study, it felt like almost too much.  The class was very small (5 or 6).  Some people showed up every day and some didn’t.  Some seemed to be living in France for a year not working, just chilling (Brits).  I was very jealous!  The quality of our teacher (Sandrine) was excellent.  We read from newspapers, discussed the articles, did grammar work, wrote papers, etc.  It was a lot of work even outside of school but I suppose that it was up to each one of us to decide how hard to hit it.  Since I was only able to do this for two weeks, I dove right in.  It paid off handsomely.  Though I would not say I was fluent, I was much more comfortable making all my mistakes and was making fewer of them.  After school I either hung around town or leisurely walked back to the house which took about 40 minutes walking along the Loire river, a very pleasant walk.  Definitely a chance of pace for me.

For me, the immersion program was a good investment and a good experience.  I got to marry the trip with sightseeing before, during and after the two weeks of immersion and that was a great bonus.  I wish I could do it again and still may.  Perhaps in another language?

I’m interesting in hearing others’ experience with immersion programs.  Perhaps it would be interesting to hear how long it could take someone who doesn’t know the language which they go to study?

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