The truth about being immersed in French

Programs for this blog post

Liberal Arts

Authored By:

CIEE Rennes

Normally, students only take foreign language classes in high school or college because it is a requirement. Then, as soon as that credit is fulfilled, they immediately forget most of what they have learned. I did not want that to be the case for me. As a French major in college, it was practically mandatory to study abroad in a French speaking country. I’ve heard that immersion language learning is the best way to learn a language, and that is why I decided to study abroad in Rennes, France, through the CIEE Liberal Arts semester program. 

Being immersed in the French language was a different process than I thought it would be. I was hoping that some sort of magical “French switch” would flip on in my brain as soon as I got here. However, as you can imagine, the process is slow yet unsuspecting. In the beginning, I was surprised at how well I could understand and speak. Speaking in French had always been my weakest skill so I think I underestimated just how much I could speak when I was required to. However, as time when on, I went through a period where I actually thought my French got worse! My brain was jumbled with new French words and phrases, and I was having a harder time expressing myself. That is one thing I did not expect. In addition, I found myself being self-conscious to talk to French people in stores or restaurants. I always had the fear that they would hear my accent and start talking to me in English. I’m not going to lie, that has happened quite a few times. However, I soon realized that all of that is just a part of the immersion process and I found myself slowly improving. To me, the most important part of learning a language is being able to communicate with someone successfully. Even though my grammar and my accent are not perfect, I know that if the person I’m talking to understands me, I have succeeded.

Another wonderful part of being immersed in a foreign language is that you learn the different characteristics and mannerisms that go along with it. Clearly, French people speak differently than Americans, but I was surprised at just how distinct the French way of communicating is. There is a certain rhythm and style to the way the French speak. It’s hard to describe. You just have experience it to know what I’m talking about. It’s one of those things you simply cannot learn in a classroom. Some of my favorite French mannerisms is when they add little words like “moi”, “toi”, “là”, or “quoi” to the end of sentences. For example, I’ve heard “Je sais pas moi” many times and I just love when people say it. They also add “quoi” to the end of sentences quite frequently and I always smile when they do. I’ve also learned quite a few filler words which is something we don’t really learn in foreign language classes. Some of the most common filler words I hear include “du coup”, “en gros”, “enfin”, “tu vois”, “bah”, and “bon”. It’s little things like this that excite me about being immersed in French. I want to learn everything that I can in France that I wouldn’t be able to learn in the U.S.

Even if immersion language learning is not the “magical” process I thought it would be, I can tell that I have already improved so much. My oral comprehension and expression has improved the most which is exactly what I was hoping for. That’s not to say that I don’t have my bad days. Sometimes, I can speak French with ease and other times it is a struggle. Although my life in France has not been as smooth as I hoped it would be (i.e. la réforme des retraites), I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything else. There is just so much that I have learned that I could never learn anywhere else. I can attest that immersion learning truly is the best way to learn a language.

Celeste Miller

University of Iowa

CIEE-Rennes Liberal Arts Spring 2023