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Watching my progression with the French language during my language lessons in Montpellier

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Watching my progression with the French language during my language lessons in Montpellier

The beginning of my French language lessons

Before my time at ILA, I had neither formal nor informal exposure to the French language. I arrived in Montpellier, France with the knowledge of a few basic words and the foundation of being bilingual in Spanish and English. While taking the language placement test I used context clues and my foundational base of Spanish. When I arrived at ILA French Language School, I was placed in level A2 for summer French language courses which, despite my lack of French, I felt was an appropriate place to start. The French language is difficult (as are all language-learning processes) and I immediately realized I would need to be dedicated to speaking French in classes even it if was uncomfortable. As the French courses progressed, I was extremely grateful for my Spanish foundations and the similarities the two languages held; but I was also surprised by how many similarities existed between English and French. Although some students insisted on speaking English in the classroom, we tried our hardest to speak consistent, although broken, French. Within the first two weeks my professor complemented my progress. As with many experiences in life, progress gives us the confidence we need to push forward, and so, I pushed forward even harder.

Classroom culture of summer language French lessons

True to the advertised structure of ILA’s French classes, each of my classes throughout my eight weeks held no more than ten students. Because ILA caters to students with many different time constraints/availabilities, it was normal to see students come and go. It was also normal to meet those that had been there for months and had months left in Montpellier. During my first month at ILA French Language School, my class stayed pretty consistent. It was this consistency that brought our class and our professor close together. Inés was an amazing teacher that quickly caught onto our strengths and weaknesses as a class and as individuals. She created a comfortable environment that supported uncomfortable mistakes that encourage learning. Our activities always seemed relevant to even to aspects outside of French lessons. Even when I switched levels and professors all the classroom settings were open to suggestions. Conversations were guided by our interests, confusions, and questions. Catering lessons to students interests in this way allowed us to not only stay focused, but also feel like we were playing a role in our own learning.

While the professor guided our classroom, and held the group together, I felt an attachment and sense of pride being part of a group. A French class consisting of ten people can feel small; yet, when everyone is from a different country it can feel like another form of travel. One of the easiest (and most relevant) ways to learn a language is to talk about yourself and the experiences you have had. Learning of other’s experiences in (broken) French sometimes felt like I was traveling to their country of origin. The classroom activities were often based on relevant and recent topics of interest and hearing the perspectives of others on these activities was inspiring. I felt I had not only learned an impressive amount of French, but had also gained so much world knowledge.

Classroom structure of summer French language lessons

French classes during my eight weeks were structured as such: French grammar at the beginning of the lesson, exercises to support this lesson, a short break of fifteen minutes ending with supporting activities, games, or presentations. Considering you arrive at the beginning of a six-week grammar rotation, the French grammar lessons build on themselves in a productive way and the activities help reinforce the learned concepts. These activities built up new vocabulary while reinforcing older vocabulary we previously went over. Examples of some of these activities include supporting videos, oral productions, written productions, group/partnered activities, and (my favorite) vocabulary or concept games.

Having studies Spanish in both formal and informal settings, I know how long a language learning process can take. It is unrealistic to expect to achieve fluency at the end of an eight week stay, let alone at the end of a five-month stay. That being said, I believe that the grammar lessons could be broken down into more digestible parts. Sympathizing with the point I made earlier in the article that ILA caters to many different time frames, I understand the challenge that breaking down lessons brings. It unreasonable to spend two months on the subjunctive tense especially when some students stay for only two weeks. Because ILA is based on a six-week rotation rather than a set-in stone beginning to end semester lesson I understand their groupings of activities. While I do think it was challenging to digest a whole verb tense (sometimes three different verb tenses) within a three-hour lesson, the hard work paid off and I am proud of the progress I have made!