Bilingualism: A Lifestyle

For me, the French language is a pretty immense part of my life. I live in Montréal, one the largest French-speaking cities in the world, and by far the largest one in North America. When I arrived in Montréal as a university student back in 2006, I brought with me my exposure to eight years worth of primary and secondary school (non-immersion) French classes. Although there was a small part of me that believed that I’d casually just keep improving my French to the point of being able to fully communicate, the truth of the matter is that I was completely hopeless en français!

After spending a number of years attending an English university, located right in the middle the city’s mostly-bilingual downtown core, I still had not really advanced myself in French. Although many things have changed since my days as a unilingual, the most significant change that I’ve made (which has led to significant progress linguistically) is in regard to my attitude and approach to language learning.

Montreal 1

In the beginning, working on my French was an incredibly laborious, fatiguing, and sometimes even embarrassing task. Most people feel somewhat vulnerable in their non-native tongue. The number of mistakes you make, the times when you simply don’t understand what someone is saying to you (despite your best efforts), the slow, incremental rate of improvement that you usually see in the beginning – it’s a humbling process to say the least! Eventually I overcame most of those obstacles through an amazing French immersion experience, but now that I no longer live in a completely francophone city (while officially a French city, the island of Montréal’s population is only about 50% francophone), I now resort to using different techniques which ensure that French is a strong part my daily life. When language learning becomes part of your lifestyle, the process becomes more automatic, less stressful, and much more fun. It becomes less work, and more play. More of a “who you are,” rather than a “something you do.”

Here are some of the different tricks and tips that I use as part of my approach:

Alerts, alerts, alerts! There are so many media apps available for smartphones in today’s world (many of which are completely free!) which deliver regular doses of information in small and manageable chunks of verbage. Why not get your news in French? Or any other language that you’re attempting to learn?

The radio waves speak all languages. If you are close to a large population which speaks your target language, there is a great chance that you can tune your radio in and listen along. Failing that, there is always the internet which will allow you to catch most of the radio stations in the world! This tactic helps to address the sheer volume of listening that language learners usually need to experience on their way to becoming bilingual.

Bonjour mes collègues! Fortunately I do have a number of French-speaking colleagues (most of whom happen to also be French teachers!). Although I may not always have time to engage them in a full conversation, a simple greeting is fast, fun and usually much appreciated!

Seeing is believing (and a big part of learning!)! I love to read French signage, as it gives me insight into how various ideas can be expressed verbally (hint: if the sign contains an image, this actually becomes a pretty instinctive process). Once upon a time, I was passing through Lester B. Pearson Airport in Toronto and was checking an overhead restaurant menu. As a federally governed building, all signage in the airport must to be bilingual. I started to search for the French version of the menu and my eyes began traveling up, down and side-to-side. Where was the French version? I couldn’t find it! Finally, as my eyes returned to the center of the menu, I suddenly realized that I’d already found and read the version française! Subconsciously, it was the first thing I had seen and interpreted.

More of a habit, less like homework…

Are you a language learner? What are some of the things that you do every day to get better without really thinking about it?

 

MB

8 thoughts on “Bilingualism: A Lifestyle

  1. I study French at university and have found that doing things that I enjoy doing in English but doing them in French instead (e.g. watching films, TV series, listening to music) has helped me a lot. Switching my social media to French has also been useful! As you say, the more you integrate it into your daily life as an enjoyable activity the less stressful it is 🙂

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    1. Hey! Thanks for your comment and for checking out my blog! That’s a great call changing your social media settings (I think anything that boosts your passive exposure to the target language is huge!). 🙂

      Have you traveled to different French-speaking places to more actively improve your French as part of your studies?

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      1. Yeah I think it helps as you do just gradually pick up the vocabulary without feeling like you’re just studying a list of it! When I was younger my family used to go on holiday to France a lot, and I lived in France last year as part of my degree (teaching English in a school)… I’ve also been to Québec/Montréal and would love to go back!

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  2. Hi coachoiseau.

    Before I immigrated to Québec–I was living in the States–I would watch Le coeur a ses raisons on DVD over and over again. There are no subtitles in French nor in English so I had to look, listen, and understand without translating. I bought the DVD on a visit in Montréal where I eventually moved. My partner is québécois so I spoke French the entire time with him and his family. I surround myself with francophones, also listening to music, news, and TV game shows in Québécois French.

    My current partner, also québécois, showed me how to play pétanque (back in 2011). He explained to me technique and strategy. All in French. I’ve played in tournaments and leagues since then entirely with other francophones. I went back home to Oregon for a visit in 2014, and played with a local pétanque group there. Being captain, I was at a lost for words because I didn’t have the English words to describe the game to the players. I had known pétanque entirely in French. It was an interesting phenomenon.

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    1. Hi Café,

      Thanks for your comment! That is a pretty amazing life transformation that you’ve undergone! Was it your original Québecois partner that brought you to Montréal?

      It is amazing how the right kind of environment and motivation can lead to such a significant change in a person’s life, even well into adulthood. I have a hard time accepting people who make the excuse that they are too old to learn a new language after hearing stories like your own. Well done!

      As recently as a couple of days ago I found myself using a French expression in a meeting, as I couldn’t find the right words in English. It’s all part of the lifestyle!

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      1. I have a friend here in Ste-Julienne who is also a bilingual anglophone, so we speak to each other in English; but I find myself, like you, just switching to French because I find it easier to express something in French than in English. Fortunately he’s bilingual so he can understand.

        I agree that we are never too old to learn a language, although it does help to have a good amount of motivation. I tried to learn German on my own before going on a trip to Salzburg. It kicked me hard. I brushed up on my Italian before a trip to Venice. I missed being fluent in that language. All of this to say that it helps to be around other people who speak the target language.

        It was my second partner who showed me how to play pétanque, and my first Québécois partner was the one who brought me to Montréal.

        Speaking another language is a lifestyle, I agree. My belief is that one eventually has to adopt and accept a new identity in the target language in order to feel comfortable–physically comfortable to accommodate the new movements the mouth has to make, and mentally comfortable to accept new vocabulary as well as mistakes. But it’s all good.

        Thank you, again, for the article.

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