Drinking a cup of tea, placed on my desk at home in Norway, I am spending the evening working on French direct and indirect articles. My days now consist of having online French classes and working independently afterwards. Although I cannot immerse myself into the French culture and language by exchanging a few words with the bakers at the corner of my street or visit the current exhibition at the MoCo art center, I enjoy my new ways of learning French.
I followed the French language course with ILA in beautiful Montpellier, south of France, for 7 months. With the increasing precarity due to the coronavirus, ILA French language school started organizing online classes. As this unprecedented situation would mean the sudden end to my French language stay, I also realized that it would necessarily have an impact on my French education. Now, I want to share with you the experience of having online French courses as well as how it actually turned out to facilitate my learning process.
When having online French courses, I felt that participating actively became easier. Being comfortable with speaking has for me, as I am sure for most learners of a new language, been a challenge. The ILA teachers always ensured a safe class environment in Montpellier trough group activities, encouraging open discussions and sometimes even organizing small breakfasts. Yet it seemed to me as if speaking from home where you are the most comfortable and acclimated, helped remove some language barriers. So paradoxically, I found that my French immersion improved and that by being in a digital class, you come closer to the French language. In other words, online French courses were excellent for feeling more at ease with expressing myself spontaneously.
Another advantage with the online tutoring is that the classes are smaller. Now, it is important to underline that they may vary in size during your stay, but given the difficult situation, the number of students attending ILA is currently considerably reduced. Despite of this being unfortunate for the school, it provides some interesting opportunities for the students. The class consisting of fewer students practically means more time for each student. Thus, we were also able to create more profound discussions. Imagine that in a normal class, each student is to answer a question, such as “How is this practiced in your country?” or “Where would you preferably travel and for which reason?”. Instead of 8 students giving their response, involving the correction of the grammatical and phonetical mistakes made, 3-4 students can develop their point of view further and receive more feedback. In short, the online tutoring opens for a more aimed and active French learning process. Additionally, speaking more frequently means a wider opportunity to discover your weak points when it comes to the grammar and vocabulary on which you need to work.
Furthermore, I will, despite of these dominating advantages, mention that one important condition is a good internet connection. During class, we do sometimes have technical challenges in terms of glitches where the connection fails, and someone has to reconnect. Luckily, I rarely have these issues, and more importantly, my teacher never does. I do however recognize that it can be frustrating for the student if it occurs to him or her, especially to a degree where one does not manage to reconnect that day. Nevertheless, I have the impression that one can easily stay updated and that one does not “miss out”. Not because of inefficient tutoring, but quite the contrary; thanks to this digital shift, we always receive the documents for the next day, after class. That is to say, we are given the opportunity to look into and get a fuller idea of the upcoming topics and grammatical issues. Personally, I think that simply being somewhat prepared for what is to be presented and discussed the next day increases my learning outcome.
Finally, I experienced that deep concentration is easier found at home. Firstly, there are fewer distractions in terms of noise from the busy streets of Montpellier. Secondly, you do not have the same temptations of going to the beach, to cafes and to visit museums with the online French class. Of course, these are also opportunities for immersion and the reasons for which I recommend you such a French language stay when restrictions cease. In the meanwhile, you could take advantage of the situation and gain better concentration. Thirdly, online French classes only allow one person to speak at a time, making them more efficient. And despite missing my friends from my language stay in France, not having them next to me in class helps raise my focus. Then there is of course the covid-19 situation in itself, where I am forced to limit my social contact and activities, giving me more time and focus. In fact, the online French courses have been helpful not only for accelerating my French learning, but also for feeling social and connected in this period of isolation.