I decided to go to French immersion school to improve on my then-meager French skills for four reasons:
- My husband is Québecois and I don’t want to be left out of conversations this Christmas… or ever… anymore!
- I live in Québec City now, where barely anyone speaks English. Okay, some people (20%?) do speak English but only as a second language. I need French to survive here! (I don’t want to be left out of conversations at dinners/parties anymore either!)
- As a geologist, I want to have more work opportunities (in Québec and other French-speaking countries) in the future.
- I had nothing else to do while off work with a broken neck.
Since I was already fluent in Tagalog (from the Philippines) and English, learning another language would be cinch, right?
Not. At. All.
My French background before formally attending French immersion school:
- 2007 – I took a basic French course in university before immigrating to Canada. It was a summer course and it was, well, kind of a joke. When I moved to Canada, I lived in an anglophone community and my exposure to French was limited to translations on food packaging.
- 2009 – I met my now-husband, a super cute boy from a small mining town in Northern Québec. We were both studying Geology at the University of Toronto. He said I should start building my vocabulary first so he started teaching me random words. We tried speaking French together, but it just became so frustrating because I couldn’t understand anything after two sentences.
- 2011 – I worked as a student geologist for a summer at an exploration camp. 85% were francophones from Québec or New Brunswick. I could understand some words/sentences but I didn’t really try to improve on my French when I WAS IN THE PERFECT ENVIRONMENT TO DO SO.
- Summer 2012 – After graduating university, I worked for the same company at the same project. I told myself I should really try this time. My fellow geo Cath taught me and practiced with me and I improved a lot!!!
- Winter 2012 – I worked and lived in the 100% francophone town of Val-d’Or, Québec where I really focused on my French skills! By the end of the winter I could have an actual conversation with a group consisting of two other people, get by around town (grocery shopping, restaurant, fitness classes, etc.), and engage in small talk with people in the office. Cath said I could even put “intermediate French” on my résumé hehe. I barely understood group conversations (3+ people) though.
- Summer 2013 – I changed jobs and worked with anglophones in Northern Ontario. I was so far removed from any French influence 😒 I knew like three miners who were francophone and I would randomly talk with them. Before long we needed to switch back to English LOL.
- Spring 2015 – I broke my neck and left arm in a car accident and had months and months of recovery in front of me. I did some Rosetta Stone and Duolingo but it was just soooooooooo boring – my great plan of doing these 20 minutes per day didn’t really happen after four days hehehe. I planned to take a more structured online French course on edX after my positive experience with the writing courses on Coursera… I signed up but I never even started it.
Before going back to Québec, I looked up some French schools online and found BLI (Bouchereau Lingua International). A language school accredited by Languages Canada, BLI happened to be only a 10 to 15 minute walk from our apartment and the prices seemed reasonable. I read some reviews and they were all generally positive. (Their other campus is in Montreal where you can study English or French. The Québec campus offers French only.)
At BLI, you can choose how intensive you want your program to be, depending on your availability and/or budget. My impression was that the school was geared mainly towards travellers who would attend the school for one to three weeks while seeing Québec or Canada.
You can take evening classes too (starting at 2:00 pm or 5:00 pm) if you work during the day.
I first registered as a part-time student (9:00 am to 12:20 pm Mondays to Thursdays and 9:00 am to 10:30 am Fridays) as I wasn’t sure how sore my shoulders would be after being up for so long. At this point I had been five months off work because of my injury, waking up no earlier than 10:00 am and just doing whatever at home! I thought it was better to err on the side of caution and not overwork my healing body to start. The part-time program cost me $1,715 for seven weeks, as I needed to go back to Toronto in December for my appointment with my neurosurgeon. (BTW, 18 DAYS LEFT UNTIL ~PROBABLE~ NECK BRACE FREEDOM!!!)
This schedule fit perfectly with my husband’s as he needed to walk this little girl in a neck brace to and from school. I could start on any Monday, although classes would already be on-going. Before even paying, I obviously told them about my neck injury and my neck brace, and that I got approval from my neurosurgeon to do this. Because I can’t go down stairs on my own as I may inadvertently fall (going up is fine as I can see the steps), I inquired if there were any stairs at the school. I was told that though there was a flight of stairs there, there was also an elevator. Awesome. I didn’t bother looking for another school. Shout out to Naoko who made my registration process very easy over the internet/phone!
Little did I know that there was another French school, École Québec Monde, much closer to our apartment. In hindsight, I should have checked out BLI in person before registering and paying for the courses. I guess I was just too excited about making my remaining two-month “sentence” in my neck brace actually worthwhile. Luckily (as you will see) everything worked out quite well.
Before registering, I completed BLI’s 60-question placement test online with zero preparation and obtained a pathetic 53.3%. I was asked to go to the school a few days before my start date to have a speaking test so I could be placed in the appropriate level. I knew I wasn’t a complete beginner and and I didn’t want to waste my time and money learning l’homme, le chat, or rouge. I’ve had enough of that on Rosetta Stone.
The school is very hard to find on St-Joseph. My husband and I went walking around there the night before my speaking test to find it. It’s just a small door next to Poutineville (and yes, that’s actually the name of the restaurant… I am in Québec, after all!).
On the day of my speaking test, I couldn’t find the elevator so I was forced to walk up this flight of stairs…
I was later shown the elevator which was on the other side of the building.
I planned to brush up on verb conjugations with my trusty Bescherelle, but that obviously didn’t happen. I just practiced how to talk about myself with my husband, practicing how to say “I broke my neck in a car accident last April during my honeymoon” and “I love hiking, travelling, and cooking” LOL. During my speaking test with Alexandra, the program coordinator, she asked me a bunch of questions about myself and she based my level on how I responded to those questions. I realized how incredibly rusty my French was… but no matter. That’s why I needed to go to French school in the first place!
She told me that I could make simple sentences and express myself well (well enough?). Indeed, I was not a complete beginner. However, I only really know one verb tense (present tense hehehe, and does the infinitive count?) and have difficulty conjugating verbs. (This entire meeting was in French, by the way, and I survived!!!)
Alexandra offered me the choice between starting in the Pre-Intermediate (A2) or Intermediate Level (B1) (these levels are internationally standardized in CEFR, or the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). She said that starting in A2 would be a good review for me, and that I could change to B1 after the first week if A2 was too easy. I looked at the syllabus for B1 and they would be discussing le gérondif when I would start… and I didn’t even know what that was. It was safe to say that I would be fine in A2!
Can understand isolated phrases and common expressions that relate to areas of high personal relevance (like personal or family information, shopping, immediate environment, work). Can communicate during easy or habitual tasks requiring a basic and direct information exchange on familiar subjects. Using simple words, can describe his or her surroundings and communicate immediate needs. (Source: France Langue)
Yup, sounds about right!
Before leaving, she gave me a tour of the two floors of the school.
I arrived at 8:50 am on October 13th, my first day, for my 9:00 am class. I was actually supposed to go there at 8:00 am according to my acceptance letter… but I guess I just completely missed reading that??! Wah. I was supposed to complete a written test but I was only able to answer the first 12 questions as I was late… but they told me it was okay since I already had the speaking test.
All the new students had an orientation at 9:00 am in both French and English (thank God) before joining the on-going classes. We were asked to introduce ourselves to our class, and once again knowing how to say “I broke my neck in a car accident last April during my honeymoon” and “I love hiking, travelling, and cooking” in French came in handy!
My first grammar class was about le subjonctif. I didn’t even know le subjonctif existed! Unlike my Canadian peers who had actual French classes in elementary school (and high school, for some people), I never formally learned French grammar. Okay, except back home in the Philippines where I learned about masculin/feminin and les pronoms. But that was it. All the “real” French I knew (verbs, sentence construction, expressions), I learned by speaking with Cath and my husband.
Because BLI is a 100% French environment (all conversations during and outside classes must be in French… like seriously, you get warnings if you are caught speaking any language other than French), I had to use a couple hundred extra brain cells to follow the class. I had a minor headache by the end of it. Haha. I probably understood only 70% of what was said during the entire class on that first day.
I am still going to French immersion school to this day (and loving it), until I can go back to work. My short-term goal is to reach Level B2 (Upper Intermediate)! Four to five months of daily French school should do the job, right? 😊 My long-term (i.e., lifelong) goal would be to reach C1 (Advanced)!
So far my husband says my French has improved astronomically. Il est vraiment fier de moi, et je suis vraiment fière de moi aussi.
Stay tuned for my progress! À+!
BLI-Québec is located at 763 rue St-Joseph E, Québec City, Québec, Canada G1K 3C6.