In case you haven’t heard before or experienced it yourself, learning a language is incredibly difficult. I had heard from numerous sources that, when put into another country, language acquisition takes about 6-months so I figured it couldn’t be too difficult if it didn’t take so long to do. I couldn’t have been more incorrect and, in a lot of ways, learning French has consumed much of my time while I’ve been abroad.
My primary methods for learning are duolingo, walking around Paris, watching and listening to french media, and just listening to family and company around me. Duolingo has provided me a decent base of vocab before entering the country, as I had been doing it for some time prior to my trip, but it’s nowhere near sufficient to fully jump into conversation. The best part of walking around the city is that everything you are faced with is French. It really helps get the French into your head as you must constantly use to figure out what you’re doing. When I’m not walking around, French music (though sometimes lacking in quality) is helpful to become accustomed to the sounds of the language and learn some new words. Movies and TV are probably even better, especially when it’s a familiar program, as you hear the language used in a typical environment with translations directly available. Above them all really is simply listening to people talk. It certainly takes concentration but the gratification of figuring out what is being said is awesome. It’s often I don’t fully understand a conversation but what little I get reinforces my knowledge and pronunciation.
Even with so many learning methods abroad there are still great difficulties in learning the language. One of the biggest for me is adjusting to the speed of conversation in French. I can read fairly well but when someones speaks it often sounds like a giant slur where I can only pick out a few words. Thank god for the older population who often speak much slower and are easier to understand. If understanding conversation wasn’t hard enough, there’s the addition of gendered words in the french language. Nouns can be either feminine or masculine with adjectives and verbs adjusting depending on the gender. For example, the word city or Ville is feminine and so the city is la ville as opposed to le ville with the article changing to match the gender. This comes to another specific point for French which is the near constant use of definite and indefinite articles. Using the word city again, if you wanted to say I like cities it would not simply be J’aime villes. It is J’aime les villes. The direct translation of this sentence would be I like the cities, which seems weird, but that’s how it is. Much of the reason I assume is because the end of the word is rarely pronounced, making it impossible to tell if a word is singular or plural, so the article indicates if the word is plural or singular.
With all these difficulties learning French has become an immense source of frustration. Constantly I feel like I should know and understand more. Combining it with the fact that my whole family on my mom and my dad’s side know the language while I do not further increases my impatience to learn. Thus I have become engrossed in studying it as much as possible yet it’s hard to resist the opportunities for English when I have them. There’s a huge divide between the desire to learn more and faster and wanting to be able to speak to those around you.
Thus comes one of the toughest parts of not knowing the language, the loneliness of not being able to talk to all those around you. It’s amazing how much the ability to communicate is taken for granted until you end up unable to express all your thoughts. Imagine sitting around a table with fairly close family and not being able to understand the conversation or to contribute anything, it’s quite frustrating. It’s often I go through most of my day without uttering a word to anyone. Some of the most lonely times are in a group environment where I normally love to meet people and chat but I am paralyzed by my inability to quickly form thoughts and to understand the language (though if I get a few drinks I loosen my lips a bit). Many times I try to think of how to express want I want in French but the delay stops the flow of conversation. This barrier is a hindrance to truly experiencing the country, people, and culture and has thus become my largest focus while here.
This language barrier has really given me a broader impression of what it is to travel abroad, especially when done alone. Under the glitter and glamour there are many difficulties to adjusting a new environment with language being a huge part of the whole. No doubt I have improved greatly in my French here and I plan to continue doing so well after I return to the Unites States. Merci d’avoir lu mon blog!