French Camp III: Learning French

This is potentially the least exciting subject (with only one picture), but perhaps one day a prospective Sainte Anne student will stumble across it and find it useful: what was the learning experience like?

The day after I arrived I took a two-part (written and oral) placement exam. There are four major levels (Debutant, Intermédiare, Avancé, Perfectionment) the first three of which have a few sub-levels. That evening I was placed in Intermédiare 1.

The Class

I had two 1.5 hour long classes each day. I must admit that I didn’t learn much in class. I was an exception. The majority of people I talked to above Debutant stated that they could speak and understand much better than they could read and write while I had no trouble with writing and grammar but could barely speak. The class work in Intermédiare 1 consisted of articles, futur proche, and passé composé. On the one hand, I thought that it was too basic for me. I knew all the grammar and was really bored by that. On the other, I went in completely unable to speak in French and I’m not sure I could have handled participating in a more advanced class. Perhaps I might even have been better off being a level lower as Debutants focus much more on speaking skills than Intermédiares and I didn’t benefit much from the more advanced written work.

Big Bird

My professor was a musician named Patrice Boulliane. He was a good teacher, but also he was quite the interesting character. At the end of the session I came to the conclusion that probably any teacher could have taught the material but I’m glad I got Patrice for the experience.

Outside Class

While I didn’t learn much new in class, I did learn a lot outside of it. They kept us very busy; meaning that we had no time to sit around on our own. We were always doing something with other people. And when you’re with other people, you talk… or try to talk. I was nearly mute the first week. The Debutants were the same. But with practice everybody got better. By the end, I could understand most of what I heard and reply almost as often. The progress with the Debutants was just amazing. Some people who started out not knowing a word of French were speaking better than me by the end of the session.

The strictness of the immersion was definitely a good thing. I’m told that at some other programs, French is merely suggested rather than obligatory. I know that if I had been allowed, I would have used at least a little English for those really complicated sentences. But being forced to use French meant I had to either learn how to say what I wanted or come up with an alternate way to phrase it.

Moving On

The immersion is over and I’m unlikely to be able to go back any time in the near future. Given that I have a fairly good grasp of all the grammar (I read ahead while I was bored in class), what really remains for me is practicing spoken French and expanding my vocabulary. I’ve found two French podcasts I like. Learn French By Podcast plays a conversation of about one minute and then discusses key points. Coffee Break French is more focused (so far) on learning little bits of vocabulary and important phrases. It also has much better hosts. The first is too business-like to really enjoy. I’m also thinking of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer in French since I already know it mostly by heart.

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