My history of studying French is long. In first grade, I attended a school that offered a specialized program for intensive French. I transferred schools in second grade, and because my new school didn’t offer such a program, I had to put French on hold until seventh grade when it was offered again. I advanced a level of French every year of high school, and yet after all these years I still find myself unprepared to engage in meaningful conversation in French.
I’ve been to France three times to visit my sister who lives there, and even though I had some level of comprehension, I never felt confident enough to speak. I had the mindset of a visitor. During each trip, I was there for a short time and was more concerned with seeing the sights of Paris than worrying about my French. Now that I reflect on those experiences, I remember that I relied on my sister to translate for me whether it was ordering at a café, reading a bus schedule, or speaking with others.
I’m a sophomore in college, and this semester I decided that if I was ever going to improve my French I needed to take a different approach. I attend Bennington College in Vermont, and we’re required to do a seven-week internship in the winter. “This is it!” I thought. I’m going to go to France, stay with my sister, who now lives in Grenoble, and look for an internship there. I was lucky to get in touch with VSArt (Volontariat et Soutien par l’Art), a volunteer association that has a chapter in Grenoble. Its mission is to organize cultural and artistic activities for people at local hospitals and retirement homes. I know that working for VSArt and navigating around Grenoble on my own is what I need.
I recently arrived in France, and when I flew here, I brought Rosetta Stone French with me. It’s been my tutor for furthering my French and refreshing my memory of all the French vocabulary and grammar I’ve been taught over the years. The program has given me a boost of confidence that’s allowed me to manage on my own when out of my comfort zone.
So far, my visit to France is quite different from my last visit—I’ve been engaging with French people and communicating with them all on my own. I’m learning a lot about the culture and society, and through my direct contact with others, involvement in VSArt, and Rosetta Stone, I’m honing my language skills as well. This already has proved to be a more organic and experiential language-learning experience than I’ve ever known before—and much more rewarding.
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