Did you know there are over 7,000 languages in the world? I don’t think I have the brain capacity to learn all of them but when I decided to move to France I had a goal to be fluent in French.
I knew the basics from what I learned in grade 4 until high school in Canada. I spent years reading French textbooks, learning grammar and memorizing conjugation but I still had gaps in my conversation. Spending two and a half months immersing in the language in Rouen and Aix-en-Provence, I realized I was doing it all wrong all these years. My French improved faster in less than three months than they did in all my school years combined. I went from an A2 to almost B2 (that’s the way the European system measures languages, with the highest being C2). I jumped an entire language level! It’s not impossible to learn or improve in another language in a short time, it just takes a little lifestyle commitment. So here is how I did it and how I jumped an entire language level in less than three months and now speak conversational French.
Take an Immersive Class
I took a 4-week immersive course at French in Normandy that didn’t include a textbook. Instead we listened to audio pieces, watched news clips, dissected French articles, and stirred debates on culture and French life. My experience at IS-Aix was just as awesome, focusing a lot on peer-to-peer discussions, oral presentations and interesting conversation. Both had a no-English rule which means we were only allowed to speak in French and English was forbidden. My classes made for a completely immersive experience.
Read books, magazines and newspapers
Read anything in the language you’re trying to learn. Start with a short piece and pick a topic that interests you. Reading helps you gain new vocabulary and learn how to use them in sentences. Each morning on my way to class I would pick up the free daily paper Le Metro or Le Figaro to learn about French news, political happenings, and the latest on the pharmacy strike.
Watch/Listen to French movies, kids’ shows, news
Each week our class had a movie night over popcorn. We watched French films with subtitles (in French) then had conversational French about the plot. If you’re learning French I highly recommend Le Hérisson. If you’re an absolute beginner, watch kids’ TV shows – they’re written with basic language ability in mind. If you’re intermediate, listen to News in Slow French. When your ears tune in to something repeatedly in a foreign language it helps listening and pronunciation skills which leads to improving your speaking eventually.
Speak French all the time
In my circle of new friends, we always spoke French even on weekends and outside of class. During lunch breaks at the park, a night out for drinks, or on day trips. We each had our challenges, some of us were better than others which helped us correct each other. I made a point to eat and breathe French from buying my train tickets to asking for directions, doing my grocery shopping even making friends with French shop owners, and if someone responded to me in English I pretended I didn’t understand. I only wavered in English a couple of times to Skype with family back home.
Surround myself with locals. Live with French people
In Rouen I lived with a young French couple in the Old Town of Rouen, a lawyer and a police officer. In Aix-en-Provence I lived with a French university student and a bartender, all who spoke a bit of English. We shared how our day went at dinnertime, talked politics or the differences between our cultures. By surrounding myself with local people it forced me to interact every day speaking (and listening) to others in the native tongue.
You don’t always need to live abroad to surround yourself in the language. Visit your city’s Chinatown to learn Chinese or shop in Little Italy to practise Italian. Give yourself lots of exposure to native speakers wherever you are, which brings me to my next tip…
Look for a Language Exchange Partner
Use Language Apps
Download free language apps to help you speak, spell, or put sentences together. I used free language apps like Conjugaison to cross-reference when I thought I was making a mistake (you can get these apps for different languages). I like this website for online quizzes to test my French writing and grammar. I also use Duolingo and Mango whenever I have down time – on the plane, train, or in my doctor’s waiting room.
Consistency is the key to language learning. It’s better to study a new language for 15-30 minutes every day for a year than cramming a couple of hours here and there, stopping and starting again.
The more languages you know, the more you are human – Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
If you’re looking for an immersive experience I found mine through Latitude International. Jeanette is well-connected to different language schools and work abroad opportunities as well.