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.
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?