Doing an immersion course in France is one of the most effective ways to learn French. The advantages it gives you are abundant and I have discussed many of them in previous articles. Obviously there are things you can do whilst taking a French course to maximise your learning. I would like to discuss one of them; finding people to practice with. This is a great strategy and really gives your studies a boost, during my time at the ILA French School in Montpellier I have had many different phases of my learning and whenever I have had a good set of fellow students to practice with I’ve noticed a huge positive difference in my development.
You may be in France and surrounded by French people every day, talking to your professors lots and interacting with the locals but there are still plenty of opportunities to speak other languages here. There are students from all over the world here who you will probably want to talk to, joke with and generally get to know, this will make you want to use whatever common language you share; most commonly English. This does have its dangers as a big part of the secret of language learning is keeping the plate spinning.
Turn Learning French in Montpellier From a Grind to a Pleasure
I met a few players from the Montpellier rugby team one night in the Fitzpatrick’s Irish pub and got to talking to them. All the players there that night were from South Africa and had been in France for a few years, but still they were finding French difficult to pick up. At first this filled me with a bit of dread as I thought if they can’t master it in a couple of years how will I manage with 6 months? They went on to tell me why they thought it was and they said a lot of it was down to their lifestyle. They are professional athletes and so don’t have an awful lot of free time. They are also a very tight nit bunch and speak a lot of Afrikaans most days and when they weren’t doing that they would talk in English. After a day of hard training and a desire to be relaxed for training or a match the following day they just want to speak in a language that is natural to them.
So, it is quite easy to create a little non-French speaking community around yourself even if you are in France. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you’re in France the job is done. Luckily you are surrounded by people who want to learn French and are at a similar level to you so it will not be hard to find someone who wants to keep the learning going outside of the classroom. Talking French with the fellow students is also great because you can avoid the feeling you get sometimes when stumbling through a sentence with a native of not wanting to irritate or bore them. With a student, any conversation is an opportunity to learn so you can relax and make tons of mistakes and it’s still useful and interesting to the other French student.
This doesn’t just have to be practice though, you can just enjoy your free time with your practice partner and do whatever you want. Just keep talking French, anything is better than nothing, I have known French students who, as soon as they leave the language school start talking in English and that’s it for their speaking practice for the day. They are invariably the ones who struggle more, then they lose confidence which has a compounding effect. It can make their French studies more of a grind and not the wonderful pleasure it should be. Also with your practice partner it’s a case of the more mistakes the better. Mistakes often result in laughter when you’re practicing with someone rather than frustration like when you are working alone. Every French student has different strengths and weaknesses too so often one of your weaknesses, say vocabulary will be a strength of theirs or vice versa. Throw in a dash of competitiveness and you can start to see why having a practice partner keeps you on your toes.
You will remember more of what you’ve learnt during the day and get more confidence as well. I recommend to anyone who is thinking of coming to Montpellier and doing a French immersion course at the French Language School to quickly find someone you can practice with in your free time even if it’s just chatting. It’s an easy way to make learning French in France easier and more fun.