Learning a language for real

The sidewalk café; a living language lab

From September through June, which is considered the school year here, I take a weekly French class that’s mostly grammar with a bit of conversation thrown in. It’s an hour and a half with a dedicated teacher who speaks no English to us and has offered to help any student outside of class time adjust to life here whether it’s filling out a form or understanding a law. The total cost for that 10 months of instruction is 30 euros (35 dollars) and as part of that fee I could also go on hikes, walking tours, take dance lessons, learn to play bridge or how to paint, and speak Russian or Spanish, to name a few, all through the AVF. I’ve spoken before in a few other posts about the Accueil des Villes Française, and that has given me a great start, but there’s more…

This past summer when my French class wasn’t in session, some of the students got together weekly to keep up the momentum we had developed in the previous months. We would meet for coffee at one of the many sidewalk cafés that surround the main square to the delight of the wait staff who also gave us complimentary remarks for our efforts. During one session, a man sitting near us, joined the table and became our impromptu teacher, saying how happy he was that we wanted to learn and it was his duty to make sure we got it right. That was real-world learning.

There are other opportunities for formal instruction in town as well. A language school here has 1 to 4-week courses, 15 hours per week, for approximately 200 euros each week. Bill went there short-term and our friend Sally stayed for a month with results I can hear when she’s talking. The newspaper had a story about a woman who teaches English to students through cooking and I’ve seen her ad for adults who want to learn French with the same method.

Reading, listening, watching

Every morning on the treadmill I still listen to the Michel Thomas Method audio files and follow that up in the afternoon with videos from YouTube. I’ll list a few of my favorite channels below. The only TV we watch is French and with the French subtitles turned on we get a painless language lesson nightly.

But the best way? Total immersion. After we spent an entire day with our friends Roland and Gilbert who never speak English with us, that night I had my first dream in French since we’ve moved here which I understand is an indication that you really are learning another language. Weekly we continue to have conversation exchanges over drinks or dinner with our neighbors who want to brush up on their English. Luckily for us, it doesn’t take long before the French sentences start filtering in, so everyone feels comfortable in being able to talk. Even short daily contacts with other neighbors are helping since many people have commented about how freely we now seem to be conversing.

I recently discovered a handbook that the federal government publishes called Living in France. Because it so clearly explains French identity I wrote about it separately but I wanted to include one line from it today. In the subsection called The key values of French society and the Republic is the following sentence: “France is a republic, single and indivisible, consisting of a single territory, a single official language and laws that apply to all.” Sounds like a real reason to learn the language.

Some of the YouTube channels I view to learn French:

Français Authentique https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQpM25U6iqaRSO-SZxd5oDw

Home Language https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFu6uJDqU_6vCIyN9KpMPLg

Français avec Pierre https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVgW9ZQaGBk6fsiPgE2mYDg

Logic Language https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR062I8ifJV0LdwoAXvJjUw

5 thoughts on “Learning a language for real

  1. I could have used AVF when I first moved in 2013 … I note they have several groups in Auvergne that I could have reached with an hour and a half drive and that would be a normal trip out so not onerous. It’s so good to read about people taking learning the language seriously. As my husband (fluent French speaker) always says ‘if you don’t speak the lingo you will always be a tourist’. I can’t imagine why anyone would move to a country and not immerse …. tv and radio and going to the cinema are such easy and enjoyable ways to do so without the fear of getting it wrong when you open your mouth. And when you do speak, like your lovely waiter, I find most French people to be patient and tolerant and delighted at the effort one is making. After nearly 5 years (but interrupted by mostly being in the US in 2016) my French is pretty good but there is always room for improvement. So happy that you are now dreaming in French by the way ….

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  2. Je suis fier ,qu’après avoir passé une journée entière avec nous,tu as rêvé en français.
    Donc il faut passer encore d’autres journées ensemble et en peu de temps ce sera parfait.
    Amitiés. Roland.

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  3. Thank you for the links! Although I do speak French..(not fluently, but well enough to be interviewed in French on the radio regarding my job in the chorus) I am always looking for ways to keep current, and my biggest problem is not in speaking, but in understanding what I am hearing, so these links are especially helpful.

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