23 March 2010

Breaking the Barrier: Learning French

I remember being very nervous the moment my feet touched the French ground for the first time. It was only natural. I was facing the unknown with not enough weapons packed in my suitcase. I was so eager to finally see the Eiffel tower in person that it didn't really matter if I knew no one, had only 1500 euros as pocket money and not entirely sure if I could find a job that I wanted. To top it all, I left my country equipped with a mere 24-hour extensive knowledge of French! It was actually less since I enrolled late in Alliance Francaise de Manille.

Yes, more than anything, the very cause of the butterflies in my stomach was the language factor. An everyday normal activity was already a challenge. I had to memorize lines just to buy necessities from the supermarket. And every time they throw back a French response that I couldn't understand, I could only reveal a stupid blank look. I was also paranoid that if I get lost I won't be able to get home because nobody would be able to understand me. In filing documents I always had to disturb a learned person to translate for me.

This must be what it feels like to be what the world has labelled as "stupid". You have so much to say and yet, you can't express it and can only say nothing. You would try with gestures and facial expressions but they won't suffice.

As the butterflies started to fly one by one, I discovered that, contrary to the universal notion, the French actually understand and speak English, especially the younger generation. But they appreciate it and and respect you more if you try to speak their language. Sometimes in my effort to speak the language, I end up sounding so awful and slow that they'd ask me to speak English instead.

More than a year after, I am still the same stupid chinky-eyed foreigner. From time to time, I would be acquainted with a French and I would be criticized for my inability to speak their language. I made so little progress, because maybe, there's just little effort in my part. I am losing my English, and even my Tagalog, but not gaining much French. One time, I went to the doctor to get a prescription. I was in panic, because however I try to search it in my brain, I couldn't remember the word "prescription". The funny thing is, I could remember, crystal-clear, its French meaning.

I am actually taking French classes. It's a two-hour twice-a-week classes in Foyer de Grenelle. The night school is run by French volunteers, so the students only have to pay 40 euros for the entire school year(books and handouts included).

For those who have a lower budget, Red Cross is offering twice-a-week classes that only cost 15 euros/school year. There are, in fact, a lot of organizations offering affordable classes:

Most of these organizations are offering twice-a-week classes. Frankly, two hours is not enough. So to supplement these classes, a language exchange might be a good idea. But I've been told many times that the best way to learn French is 1. to find a French boyfriend(or girlfriend) 2. watch French films with subtitles regularly.

If you find these suggestions way too complicated and you have the money to spend, then try the very popular La Sorbonne, Alliance Francaise, or Universite Paris Descartes. They offer everyday classes and supplementary learning activities.

Mairie de Paris is also offering French classes that suit your needs: Cours Municipaux d'adultes

There is also a site which lists down the recommended F.L.E. centers in France. In addition to the centers, you can also find information on the different exams that certifies your grasp of the language (DILF, DELF, DALF).

And if that's not enough and wants more choices, consult David Lebovitz's list.

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