April 24, 2015, by Rachel Bainbridge

Has your French actually improved?

One of the questions friends and family often ask regarding my year abroad is: “Has your French actually improved?” Ever since starting to learn the language back in secondary school, I have never been the strongest when it comes to speaking and listening in French. Even at uni, I struggled in oral classes and thought I would just never get it. Tutors kept telling me: “Don’t worry, that will improve on your year abroad.” But I was reluctant to believe them, as I thought it was pretty hopeless.

Well guess what? The old cliché of “the best way to learn a language is to fully immerse yourself in the culture” – i.e. to live abroad – holds true! My comprehension of French in everyday life is better than ever. I overhear conversations on the bus and understand them; I go to the cinema to watch French films sans sous-titres without getting lost; I listen to my students chatting and give them a look as if to say “I understand you, you know?”

The main help when it comes to language acquisition is living with French people. The general public are often blunt and heartless when my French is bad, however my flatmates don’t care and are happy to teach and guide me. Listening to them chat away and being able to ask “wait… ca va dire quoi (insert French word)?” has been the best practice.

To me, spoken French no longer sounds like a long murmur of noises, but distinguishable words and phrases, the meanings of which I am learning to understand quicker and quicker every day. However, whilst my listening comprehension has improved, my speaking skills are slow starters. I can, of course, easily talk about concrete things; what I did today or what I am doing tomorrow. But expressing myself, my thoughts and my ideas is often difficult. Being able to say my piece easily, in the flow of a conversation is hard. Even when I try, I often feel the meaning is lost in translation.

I am an outspoken person who likes to make others laugh and give my opinions. The way I express myself best is through speaking, so when you take away my native language, you take away a lot of my personality. Being able to just let go in another language is probably one of the hardest things for anybody and so I can only hope it will come in time. For now I am enjoying being able to work and live abroad. I amaze myself every day at what I can understand and how far I can get in a foreign language! And for anyone who thinks their listening and speaking will never improve: a year abroad really does work!

Posted in Language acquisition