Sunday, June 30, 2019

Café Langues Échange

It was around back in January of this year when I posted this flyer around my village of Puget-Theniers here in the southern French Alps. At the same time I was taking a French Intensive course with Alliance Française in Nice. Everyday for a month I took the 790 bus from here to the city and the ride was 1.5 hours each way! But it was worth it because I learned so much and made some lovely friends.

Anyway, back to the flyer. I had this idea to make an exchange with a French speaker wanting to learn English. I imagined we could have a coffee and speak part of the time in French and part of the time in English. And, perhaps I could even make some new friends. Out of curiosity I did some research and turns out these types of exchanges already exist, which was fantastic to know. So I posted this flyer up at the local carrefour supermarché and on a village bulletin board, not knowing what to expect. I believe it wasn't until near the end of March when I got a call from Laurent.

I was nervous but we had a coffee and great first meeting. Laurent speaks English quite well and his level of English is higher than mine in French, but we manage well. Soon after our first exchange, he brought his partner Magali who also wants to learn English. Her level is more novice, but I've printed out worksheets for beginner English learners and we've had laughs and made progress over ambré beers at Chez Math, a local bar and restaurant. Turns out Laurent and Magali live just down the street from us. And, it also turns out that I have made two wonderful new friends.

It's such a small world because Laurent makes the deliveries of the veggies and eggs at the farm where I work at so we are also colleagues in a way. And, Magali is one of the bus drivers for the 790 which I took to Nice everyday for my French lessons. After I finally formally met her, I recognized  her right away as the really nice bus driver! That's the beauty of village life for you.

This is my 5th year studying French! I can't believe it's been that long. I've only ever had 1 month of formal study in a classroom. But I've been living on and off in France for the last 5 years and so have learned French mostly just in daily life, with some self-workbooks sprinkled in. Though it's been an informal learning, I would say it has been a very integrated study. I've been learning French as a child would learn a new language, all in the context of real life through practice and everyday exchanges with people. Below are my tips to learning French, or any language. I was 26 when I started learning French, so age is no matter!

Les Essentielles: Les cafés, la croissant et la dictionnaire. 

5 Tips for Learning a New Language:

1. Surrender, accept that you will make mistakes (lots of mistakes), some very embarrassing. For my surfers out there it's like when you are out in the water and you just have to surrender to Mother Nature and the waters, and going with where the waves and tide take you rather than resisting.

2. Surround yourself with the language. It really helps to immerse yourself, in whatever capacity you can. The best is of course living the country or a community with people who speak the language you are trying to learn and just hearing it everyday and seeing it written everywhere on signs and menus. Being forced to speak the language daily also trains your brain and those muscles in your mouth and tongue to formulate those words. If you can't quite immerse yourself yet, watch lots of movies or listen to music or see youtube channels about this language. If there is a specific topic you are interested in or have a passion for, like for me it's gardening, then look up videos or media on this in your language of interest!

3. Speak, Speak, Speak! Don't be afraid to speak the language as much as you can and with the surrendering of number 1, don't be afraid to make mistakes and sound silly. Have compassion for yourself, you are learning, your brain is growing bigger, people know you are learning and most of the time have compassion for you and appreciate you learning their language. It's all good. It's very important to keep exercising those muscles in our mouths and tongues that are foreign to our native language. Set a timer for an hour and speak only the language you are learning, no matter how hard it is. Start a Café Langue Échange in your community! Post a flyer or go to a forum/social media outlet and post that you are looking for a language exchange. Speak for 1/2 hour in the language you want to learn and 1/2 hour in your native language for your exchange partner.

4. Read, Read, Read! Carry a pocket dictionary or picture dictionary around and look up words you don't know or make notes of words you hear and don't know to look up later. My French to English/English to French dictionary is my best friend, well next to my opinel (French pocket knife). For me, looking up words the old-fashioned way with a book dictionary somehow allows me to remember better that word. Perhaps it's the time it takes to look it up and read the definition? But I find that when I look it up that way rather than google translate on my phone (although google translate can be helpful at times too) I remember the word so much better. As you build vocabulary, you have more building blocks to make new sentences with. For me, as a visual learner, when I see a word and how it is spelled and used in a sentence, I remember it better and know how to use it. I like reading these little pamphlets from the organic store which come out monthly, sort of like a newsletter. It's just my level of French, simple, and the topics are everything I am interested in: food, farming, creating personal care products, so I feel motivated to read and to look up words I don't know since it's a topic that interests me. Graphic novels are really great, too! Oh and subtitles! I would watch a movie in French and read the subtitles in English and then watch English movies with French subtitles. Or, French movie with French subtitles. All three ways can be helpful, as well as starting out with a film or story you already know. Explore what works best for you.

5. Make friends with people who speak the language you want to learn. If they don't speak any language other than that language you want to learn, even better! This will really force you to learn and practice. My landlord for our first apartment in France (the apartment castle) didn't speak a word of English, and I always enjoyed having tea or mojitos with her because she was a cool person but also because I could really hone in on my French with her. Even more romantic, if you can fall upon a lover who speaks the language you want to learn and, the important part, who doesn't speak your native language. So the last part of that last sentence is good for learning a new language I think, but I imagine that being really hard to growing a relationship with someone. Jorris, my husband, speaks French but also English (and Dutch, German and Spanish), so it's great because he helps me with my French but also not great because he loses patience quickly and turns back to English. For our relationship though, I'm so glad he speaks English so we can communicate our feelings.

*photos and flyer by me. 

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