Reading time: ~7 minutes
It’s been a while since I gave an update on how my French is going. Where am I now?
In the four months since I began my formal French lessons, I’ve made my way from the Elementary (A2) to the Upper Intermediate (B2) level. More recently, I’ve been taking Advanced (C1) lessons from my private tutor. (You can find out more about the different levels of French pedagogy here.) That being said, it’s clear that I’m not your average DuoLingo user. I’ve been taking this quite seriously! I do have a pretty big advantage, though: my husband’s first language is French and he grew up in the province of Québec.
Here’s my take on both the good and the bad in learning a completely new language. I hope it inspires my fellow Canadians to improve their French – or any other language for that matter!
The fun stuff
Even though I’m already bilingual (Tagalog and English), I’ve never realized how learning another language opens so many new doors. The most important “door” has led me to appreciate the ENTIRE WORLD of French/Québec culture!
I’ve graduated from watching Caillou, a TV series for toddlers, to more exciting shows appropriate for my age group:
Série Noire – Seasons 1 and 2
In twenty-two episodes, I went from understanding 5% to 40% of the dialogue. This was such a unique show filled with all sorts of nerdy references and randomness! I hope they come back for a third season.
The memes kill me.
19-2 – Seasons 1 and 2
There is an English version of this show, but WHY?!?!? I love the show’s intensity, music, characters, and storylines.
These days, I watch Un Souper Presque Parfait to improve my understanding of everyday conversations. It also helps that most of the conversations involve food. Hehe.
All the shows above are from Québec. For my taste of French from France, I watch Qui Sera Le Prochain Grand Pâtissier. I LEARN SO MUCH FROM THIS SHOW!!! I want to be just as good as them, huuuu.
Considering that my weakness has always been understanding spoken French, I’m constantly on the lookout for helpful (and entertaining) podcasts and radio shows. One podcast I love is Sur La Terrasse, a Montréal-based show hosted by two girls in their 30’s. Their second episode on Montréal’s Métro Flirt was hilarious. I don’t think they’re active anymore, but their show is available for free on iTunes. (Check out their first episode here!)
Full-length movies are more difficult for me – my goal is to understand an entire movie without subtitles (French/English). I watched C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) back when I just started French immersion school and I barely understood anything.
As for understanding written French, I completed reading my first French book with my husband in February.
And you guessed it, it was Le Petit Prince.
Since I haven’t learned the simple past tense, I kept asking my husband what eut and fut meant EVERY. TIME. we read this book. Haha.
My private tutor and I also read children’s books together sometimes. What’s more, about a fourth of my cookbooks are in French so I am forced to ask or look up some terms if I want to get a recipe right! I’m currently reading my second Asterix et Obelix comic book with my husband… while I get my bones “stimulated” by my trusty bone stimulator every night.
Lastly, here’s some shameless plugging:
Check out my cousin-in-law’s blog, La Serveuse du Nelligan’s. She writes an article every week about her crazy experiences as a barmaid in Québec City. My husband and I have some pretty good laughs every time we read her blog. Bon travail, Manon!
Now, on to the second “door” that learning French has opened…
Being more-than-decent in French has allowed me to meet and hang out with more people! I’ve already mentioned this in my previous post, so I’ll just share some photos here.
Though I can’t articulate myself 100% (maybe 85-90%), I always end up having a good time. I don’t feel so left out because of the language barrier anymore!
My knowledge of French has unlocked a third “door,” being able to participate in activities (conferences, workshops, etc.) all by myself. For example, last year, I went to Québec Mines, a mining and exploration convention here in Québec City. I avoided paying the $300 fee for professionals since I was technically still a student (albeit a French student).
I even took a short course in geophysics and surprisingly SURVIVED.
Last month, I went to Expo Manger Santé, Vivre Vert, a large expo on healthy cooking, eating, and living. It was so awesome!!! I hope to find the time to blog about it.
All right, here’s the really not fun
Although I just wing it 95% of the time in daily French life, I need to study my notes to remember everything I’ve learned. It’s been hard to find the motivation to do so, but last week, I finally opened my binder and read over two months’ worth of lessons. Here’s a sample of one of the exercises I did:
I also need to review my verb conjugations from time to time, as I find myself guessing them as I speak.
It often happens that I embarrass myself when I don’t know the meaning of certain words or I can’t articulate myself properly. In that healthy food expo I mentioned earlier, for example, I was roaming from booth to booth when I saw this pamphlet from Health Canada:
I didn’t know what the word salubrité meant, so I asked the lady manning the booth. She answered (hygiene/cleanliness), but looked at me strangely and judgingly. She must have thought, Doesn’t she know about cleanliness? I felt so bad as I walked away from the booth. 😦
In another instance, I was asking a chef (the one pictured above in the culinary demo) what those little white tails on cooked quinoa were. I was trying my best to formulate my question in French, but I obviously failed as he quickly switched to English. Ouch. We weren’t understanding each other, even in English LOL, that he directed me to his booth on the floor. (Answer: it’s the quinoa grain’s endosperm.)
Whatever, I just channel those weird looks into motivation to speak more eloquently! But sometimes, it sucks and I can only do so much.
I once had a private French tutor who was the ABSOLUTE WORST. I ended up firing him. He was an older gentleman, maybe my parents’ age. We had the lessons at my place. Not only could he not explain concepts clearly (the futur anterieur isn’t THAT complex), he made me feel so terrible that I wasn’t that good in French. I was Upper Intermediate (B2) at the time! I fared so much better than most Canadian anglophones!
I felt sad and regretful during most of the lessons. My husband also found it strange that he forced conversations to be vouvoyer-ed (using the formal vous instead of the informal/normal tu). After a week, I had enough and told him I wasn’t going to continue with the lessons. He was in disbelief that it wasn’t working between us, claiming it was the first time a student found him disrespectful and unskilled. There was a bit of drama that my husband had to step in… good thing this was all over the phone.
Anyway, my current French tutor is the best. We listen to songs, study grammar, do exercises, read stories, and watch short films – plain, wholesome French fun!
The moral of the story: Don’t choose a French tutor with an ad on Kijiji, choose one with an ad at your local Asian store.
Here is my next book to read and work on:
The true fun
Despite the difficulties in learning a new language, I believe that reaping the benefits are worth it. Like my friends and family, I’m surprised how quickly I picked up French. Not only has French exposed me to a different culture, many wonderful people, and several interesting activities that I otherwise wouldn’t experience, but it has also brought me much closer to my husband.
When I stopped going to French immersion school two and a half months ago, we banned English in our household. Yes, that’s right: BANNED. The penalty: the English-speaking offender would pay the other 25 cents in reparation (per instance, not per word!). We had our respective pots of coins.
Believe it or not, I kept winning! I even had enough money for the bus at one point!
We implemented this rule strictly for a good two weeks, with me improving my spoken French every day. But then we started to slack off after an English-filled weekend with our friends from Toronto.
We’re currently trying to bring it back, but we still slack off. Our current pots:
Immersion is really the best way to go when you’re learning a new language. I’m fortunate to have my husband, his family, and my friends around for support!
That, and I don’t really have a choice while living in Québec…
But immersion is only half the key to success. You really just have to TRY. Let go of that sheepishness! Try speaking as much you can, even if you’re constantly doing at least four different operations in your head as you speak. Try involving yourself in various activities. Try finding things to watch, read, or listen to. Try writing little messages to your friends. Try practicing as often as possible. Patience and persistence are easier said than done, but that’s what it takes. Believe me, I know.
In mid-June, I plan to take an official test to gauge how ~*truly awesome*~ I am in French. I also need the extra motivation to improve my French; I want to do more than just “wing it.” I’m torn between taking the TFI (Test de français international) or the DALF (Diplôme approfondi de langue française). There’s more pressure in taking the DALF, because I will be tested at a particular level (C1, Advanced), as opposed to simply going in and getting my level assessed in the TFI. I would be SO disappointed if I scored Intermediate only in the TFI, so I will probably aim for the DALF C1. I’m scared and I need to prepare A LOT for that, but I love challenging myself by setting extreme goals and just going after them!
I’ll let you know how it goes in June!