April 24, 2015, by Rachel Bainbridge
Throw yourself out of your comfort zone
It was quite a daunting thought at the start of my year abroad that I was left totally responsible for my language learning for a full academic year. No assessments or weekly oral classes to check my progress. This is my sole chance to immerse myself in the local language and become as confident as possible. So along with all my other anxieties on arrival in France, I had to be prepared to meet with bank clerks, insurance firms and landlords, in order to ensure everything was in place for my year in France. As you can imagine, phonecalls in another language are much more challenging than face to face interaction and require much patience and the ability to express yourself very clearly. Nonetheless, it is a very satisfying feeling when you come off the phone with a fixed problem.
After doing some research on my city, it came as a lovely surprise to find out that my region has the most standard French accent. This filled me with delight as I knew this would aid my progression in French. And true to its reputation, the locals carry a much more standard French accent than in the South-Western region I spent my summer months in.
My advice to fellow Year Abroad students would be to find as many unique ways as possible to practice your French. One weekend, a fellow assistant and I travelled to another French city by covoiturage instead of train. This allowed us to squeeze in 3 solid hours of French practice as well as save a few pennies. So when abroad, it is really important to throw yourself out of your comfort zone and take every opportunity that is offered to you. Even those 15 minute breaks in the staff room at school really add up when you’re doing this 3 or 4 times a week.
I am lucky enough to live in a block of studios for French students and was invited to a welcome party where I spent the whole evening talking to French students. Even though it was nerve racking as I was the only foreigner there, which meant I had to ‘faire la bise’ (kiss on both cheeks) with everyone in the room, it was great to hear people’s reactions to my level of French. From this experience, I have found other students who learn English and would like to do a language exchange. Apart from that my friends and I try and immerse ourselves in the local culture and visit the cinema each week, buy magazines, newspapers and visit the local farmers market.
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