You may recall Lena, my good Swiss friend who I interviewed for an article recently. As her and I have become close friends and I find what she has to say about her experiences of our French Immersion School in Montpellier and France in general so interesting I thought I would make another article for it. After all she is a real linguist with French bringing her total number of known languages to 4 so you’d naturally think she is worth listening to about the subject. An assumption I think was well founded.
Why come to France to learn French?
In Switzerland when I was younger we just learnt grammar which I didn’t find very fun. Because it was in school and alongside so many other subjects we didn’t do listening or speaking exercises frequently enough for me to feel any progress. The focus was on the theoretical grammar, which ironically I now find the most interesting aspect of learning the French language but as a child it was confusing and difficult. We had a mandatory language immersion stay in France for two weeks which was so much fun! I also noticed a dramatic improvement just in that fortnight surrounded by French speakers so this made a lasting impression on me that I should be in a French speaking country to really get the language down. I know what you’re thinking. I live in French speaking country! This is true obviously but I live in a small village in the Swiss German speaking part. Maybe in the big cities in my region it would be easier to find French classes or tuition but it’s not as easy where I live.
Another big factor here is the cost. Switzerland is expensive. Since I have been learning French in Montpellier I have had a few people say to me ‘oh you are Swiss! You must be rich!?’ Yes Switzerland is quite a wealthy country but the cost of living is high too so I came to France because it was far cheaper than the French speaking parts of Switzerland. At first I was thinking of Paris which still would probably have been cheaper but a friend recommended Montpellier to me and I realised I could get so much more out of my money here. The French course in France is cheaper and going for a daily coffee and a croissant is perfectly sustainable and of course I do want to enjoy the culture a bit too while I’m here. I spent a long time researching different French schools in France though as my friend had done an intensive French course for adults here but I was particularly interested in the DELF preparation. I decided on a French language immersion in Montpellier first and then ILA seemed like the best French school in Montpellier for I wanted.
What has your French host family in France been like?
I have been living with a sweet 72 year old lady, she’s so cool. I started off with meals included which were lovely. Then I changed to making my own meals which for me was better as I feel more independent and more equal. We are still eating together though but I just feel more at home and not like a guest.
How have you responded to the French immersion technique?
I was happy how well I understood the teachers but French natives were hard to understand. Now I understand faster and can have spontaneous interactions which are a lovely feeling. The immersion technique makes it easier to see how well you’re doing because you have the French natives as a constant measuring stick. After a while I noticed people weren’t speaking extra slow for me and I could keep up which made me feel a lot more secure because unfortunately some natives have no idea how to speak simply for a French learner. I went travelling in Central America for a year and spent 6 months at 2 different immersion schools to speak Spanish and I am convinced this is the most effective approach to language learning.
Advice for future French students coming to France?
Leave your comfort zone! Be open and try to engage, don’t be shy. You’re in the same boat as the other students on the ILA French course and the natives are mostly very easy going. Don’t stay stationary, if you have the choice between a lower level that is a bit too easy and a higher level that is a bit too hard go for the latter and get up to speed. You can do it! Enjoy your French course in France. Have a great time during French language stays in Montpellier.