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A Guide to Language Exchange - How I am Learning To Speak French

Updated on September 1, 2013
montreal place jaques cartier
montreal place jaques cartier

Introduction

French is going to be my third language, I say going to be because I am serious about it. But being serious about it and actually achieving it are 2 different things. In this life nothing is easy and getting any results for a project requires hard work, patience and a strategy that works. My strategy for French is as follows: I have taken 2 courses at the university level to introduce me to the fundamentals of French Grammar, these courses have been very helpful in many respects but they have not taught me how to speak French, rather I've become well versed in reading and writing French. I am now actively engaged in something I call language exchange. What that means is that I meet with someone or with a group and practice my French. In return I teach the other person English. When I began trying to find people to converse with I realized that once a week wasn't enough, so I diversified and now have meetings 3 times a week each lasting around 3 hours. My last piece of the strategy was a bit daring of me, I moved to a French city (Montreal) to study, thinking complete immersion was the way to go. (It was and it wasn't for many reasons).

My Previous Experience With a Language Exchange

When I was a very small child I spoke Russian and Spanish and no English. However because my family chose to immigrate to Canada when I was barely a toddler I had lost all of my Spanish and everything but a rudimentary understanding of Russian. Growing older I began to realize that I missed those languages, in particular I missed Russian. I was very shy and very nervous about speaking it but I made it a conscious point to stop that and to do my best to improve my abilities. My mother was someone I was too shy with to allow her to see how abysmal I was so instead I made friends. The friends I began making and have maintained since those days were all people for whom Russian is a native language. For them it was only natural that among themselves they would speak Russian all the time, and I began to do so too. At first it was deeply embarrassing, I made a lot of mistakes, my accent quite frankly sucked and people would sometimes make fun of me for these defects. But for me it was my native language and culture too and so I refused to give up. I kept speaking it every single day, I began listening to music and watching movies and television series in Russian, and very quickly my grammatical errors began to improve. I kept this habit up for 6 years, I only stopped when I moved away from home and from my community, by that point I could read, write and converse with a very passably neutral accent in Russian. To this day I am very proud of this achievement.

old port, Montreal
old port, Montreal

The Crazy Decision to Move to Montreal

From my teenage years and my tinkered version of a Russian language exchange, I felt as though the language bug had bit me. But my fascination with languages did not at first morph into French. I instead studied Latin and Ancient Greek in my first year of University. By the end of my first year I realized I had made a mistake in my choice of school to attend, I had at this point become a frequent visitor to Montreal (I was based not far from there) and decided that living there was what I wanted to do. So I sent in my transfer applications to a school in Montreal, packed up my things and off I went. This was the craziest thing I ever did, (and I've done some crazy things before this). But the idea of living in a whole new culture and language was just fascinating to me, it was like drinking from the eternal fountain of pleasure and I really wanted to do that. Montreal however was a difficult place to live in, I arrived completely green and was in for a real shock when I realized that although I really wanted to learn French, not knowing it yet was going to cause me some real problems. But then all life is a risk and this was one that despite the setbacks I seriously do not regret taking.

The Island of Montreal

LeMeetup and other types of Language Exchange

For some reason I seem to love grammar, the organising of a language into distinct categories and lists appeals to me. However a real language is much more organic and fluid than that. So while I would say to everyone that learning your grammar basics is important I would also say to take it all with a grain of salt and always remember that speech practice gets you farther than reading a book. I try to attend language exchange practice at least 3 times per week. Twice weekly I go to a conversation circle that I found on the website meetup.com where people get together and practice their English and French abilities with each other. Once a week I meet one on one with a language exchange partner I found through craigslist, she speaks Parisian French and I speak well travelled and accent chaotic English so we seem to get along. For anyone wishing to learn a language the best advice I can give is to practice speaking it, knowing some basic grammar points and expand through the rest orally.

Eiffel tower, paris
Eiffel tower, paris

Is French Immersion Necessary?

The short answer is no. There are many products, services and courses you can take which will help you to learn a language without immersion. But unless you actually make it a point to sit down and converse with a native speaker of that language, then you are not going to really get the hang of the rhythm and flow and fluency will always be static to you. However most people do not have the option of simply packing up and moving to a place where the language they want to learn is spoken. It is for this reason that language exchange exists, in any city you can find native speakers of a language you wish to learn and convince them to help you get there. This is a good alternative to immersion, it’s a bit part time but it greatly helps, and it will take you out of your comfort zone and force you to learn. I recommend the website mentioned earlier meetup.com, you just need to input your location and search for the type of group you wish to attend and it will find it for you. Another option is to use free classifieds websites such as craigslist to advertise or respond to someone else's ad about language exchange. Usually you would look under the community heading to do that.

Conclusion - the Road to becoming a Polyglot

For me it is a passion to try and learn as many languages as I can. I take it slowly and don't overwhelm myself before I am ready but is something that I trudge along towards every single day. I firmly believe in the power of grammar, and I believe in conversing with other people. If you want some resources on French grammar and an introduction to learning it, check out this website below. Speak French With Me

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