One of the things people often struggle with at the start of a French immersion course in France is putting what they have learnt into practice outside of the classroom. I have written before about how it can be difficult, even in France, to find exactly the right people to practice with. Class-mates are great but if you are living in different places it can be difficult to maintain throughout the day, French locals can often seem like too much of a challenge to talk to especially when you’re at the beginner stages. The professors at the ILA French Immersion School are really the best resource I have as they know my level and what I can and can’t do so they feed me more challenging things bit by bit. Most locals don’t have the same training however and will not be as good at knowing what you are likely to understand. I want to discuss in this article a little tactic for getting ready for conversations in French. Have conversations with yourself. Sounds simple but so many people learning French don’t do this and it is SO useful.
This is particularly useful for those of you who might be feeling a little nervous about starting your journey of learning French in France. It can be scary to come to another country where you don’t know the language as communicating regularly is very important for our daily lives. Not having this ability can be daunting and also a lot of students at the ILA French School worry about embarrassing themselves with the locals by saying something offensive or wrong and want to be a lot better before taking on longer conversations with native speakers. This is a perfectly natural response to something as complicated as language learning but I would advise that you push past that and get out there and talk to the French people. I know this is easier for some than for others so as a compromise if you really wantto hold off talking to people for a bit having imaginary conversations with yourself is a good way to prepare. If you think this sounds silly don’t take my word for it, Benny Lewis the creator of Fluentin3months.com talks about this technique in his TED talk which I recommend you watch:
I Might Feel A Little Odd but My French is On Form!
Without having the pressure of another person in front of you you can calmly take as much time as you like and make as many mistakes as you like. This is an advantage of talking to yourself that will never change. I have friends who are taking the DELF/DALF exam preparation course who are still using this technique as they don’t like to wait until they have need of something in a conversation or a piece of writing before they give it a go.
I particularly find that talking about everyday things is great because it is stuff you are more likely to hear and use. Just like the exercises you do at the language school focus on typical
situations, if you direct your imaginary conversations to stuff you are more likely to do it will be more useful and enjoyable. Think about what you are going to do over the next few days;
are you going to the bank or post office? Meeting friends for coffee? Imagine how that might go and build from there. Imagine both sides of the conversation and likely obstacles that might pop up. What vocabulary is likely to come up? If you are in a bar for example think about what is in there or what normally happens in a bar and research the vocabulary for it. This is one of the great things about creating these imaginary conversations; the vocabulary it teaches you. Sometimes when searching for what vocabulary to learn it can be a bit of a ‘where do I start moment’. If you create a conversation and when you think of a thing you don’t know the word for you can look it up and if you are keeping it to situations you are likely to experience that vocabulary should be very useful.
Having already practiced at your own pace what phrases and words you are likely to encounter you will more prepared but actually saying the conversations out loud is one step further. It might make you feel a bit odd but vocalising the conversations really engrains it more deeply in your mind. This way it will be on the tip of your tongue for your French classes, chatting to people at the ILA French Language School in Montpellier, chatting to your host family or even just people in the street. Have fun with it!