(photo by: www.flickr.com)
No matter what kind of study abroad program you’re a part of, or if you go abroad for other reasons, it can be really hard to stay motivated in learning the local language. As Andrea explained in her books, she was able to get by in her first semester with almost no work at all. So if you’re in a program where there’s not 100% accountability, you’ll need to keep some self-motivation so that you don’t regret your time spent abroad because of not improving your language skills. This means working on it even in your free time, but finding an enjoyable way to do so. Here are two tips that will help you see the most improvement outside of actual studying for classes.
Don’t spend all your time with other Americans. Even if you pick a living option away from other Americans (which is definitely advisable since it’s obvious you’ll speak English with them), you can still easily end up spending all your free time with other Americans and therefore speaking English. It can definitely be scary to try and befriend locals since you don’t know their customs and slang, etc. But it’s also extremely likely that there will be other international students in your area who are equally as anxious about fitting in, and they will become equally great friends. It’s doubly rewarding because French can be the common language you speak and you’ll have friends from around the world at the same time. But also, you can meet locals and practice your French with them by doing an exchange. Plan a meeting where you spend thirty minutes talking in French, then thirty in English, etc. Since lots of people are trying to learn English these days, it’s a win-win situation. Just do some searching in both languages and you will probably find some websites where people post exchange requests; couchsurfing.org is a great start. And if you’re more of the skype-chat person, sites like italki.com can help you get connected with people around the world. But despite how important it is to not spend a lot of time speaking English, it’s ok to keep a few American friends- for your sanity! There will be times when you just need to vent in English and speak in your own way, and it’s refreshing to hear other people’s stories in your native language. Just don’t get so comfortable with the escape that you give up on having other friends!
Don’t spend your free time watching TV shows and movies in English. There are some fantastic French films out there which deserve to be watched, and you can learn both new vocabulary and interesting culture tidbits. The actors tend to speak more quickly in comedies, so just find a version with subtitles and you’re good to go! When I watch a French film and understand what’s going on, I automatically feel more connected to the culture and it motivates me to do the same thing again, so it’s a great domino effect. Some of my favorites (which were all made recently) have been: L’équipier, Les saveurs du palais, Populaire, Nous York, La belle et la bête (2014), Les intouchables, 9 mois ferme, and Qu’est qu’on a fait au bon dieu?. Unfortunately for us, there’s not a plethora of great French TV series to get addicted to, so I personally stick to movies, but the news is always a great daily watch. It’s important to know what’s going on in the country you’re studying abroad in, so you’re working two skills at once. But there are also some decent game shows in French in which you’ll also learn some interesting trivia. And as with keeping American friends, just watch American TV shows and films when your brain is hurting from too much French or you’re having an “I hate France” day. Those will come and go:)
(photo of French tv stations by: www.vitamine.ch)
I have had friends who left from their time abroad without much improvement in French, saying it was the fault of their host family not speaking to them enough or their classes being awful, etc. But the bottom line is that it’s up to you to learn the language. There are hundreds of free resources online simply for practicing grammar and vocabulary, and all kinds of strategies to learn and have fun (like what I’ve already mentioned), so there are no excuses! You can’t hold other people responsible for your lack of determination. And no matter how hard it may seem, it is possible! So just hold on and have fun!