My early journey learning French

Over the years, I have had a lot of folks inquire as to how I learned to speak French. Now at a fluent level, I can proudly say I put a lot of effort into getting my level to where it is today, and it started around middle school for me. 
I would go to Borders Books & Music back before they went out of business (RIP, Borders), find the foreign language section, and immerse myself into the fun workbooks they had with pictures and activities that made language learning fun! They weren’t too expensive, fortunately, so I picked my favorite book out, took it home, and completed it not long after buying it. 
I continued my self-study into high school where we were given three options of languages to pick from for our second language requirement. In the US, at the time, we had to fulfill a foreign language requirement in order to graduate high school, and our options were Spanish, French, and German. I chose French (although I was also interested in German, I figured focusing on one language at a time would suit me the best). Lo and behold, I was right!  

The Doubs river in Besançon, France.

I kept looking at French materials at the bookstore and paid apt attention in my French classes in high school. I did very well and my French teacher, Mrs. Nuzzi, made learning the language very fun! I knew that I wanted to keep my French going after high school, so I decided that I would take classes in college to some extent. I didn’t know at the time that it would later become my major when I transferred to Western Michigan University! I was incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to study abroad in a beautiful city called Besançon while studying French at Western. My French teacher at Western, Cynthia Running-Johnson, went on the first part of the trip with us to get us acclimated with our host families. 

I will post more on that particular trip separately – as it was truly a life-changing event. If you ever get the opportunity to study or visit another country, take it! Leaning about other cultures is incredibly eye-opening and will change your world view in a way you never imagined it could .
After receiving my Bachelor’s degree in French Studies, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career, so I applied for the Teaching Assistantship program through TAPIF. I was accepted, and the ‘département’ or region of France where I would teach was provided for me – I would teach English in a high school in the Bordeaux region! The town, I would later find out, was called Aiguillon, a small town of about 4,000 habitants at the time (2010). I prepared my own lessons, and taught English part-time throughout the week and was able to spend the rest of my time exploring the town and its surrounding areas, including places like Agen, Tonneins, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Marmande, and so many more cities with the help of France’s high-speed train (the TER).

One of the many stunning cathedrals in the Lot-et-Garonne region.

It’s very important that I note the following information:
While I was in France, both as a student as well as a teacher, I made the express effort to not speak English while I was there. Was it difficult? Yes. Do I feel that it helped me learn and grow a lot faster than I would have if I had just expected the French citizens to speak English with me (if they knew it, and most of them did know some level of English!)? Absolutely! It was hard to be able to understand everyone all the time, but when you use expressions like “I’m a student”, “I’m still learning French”, and “Can you please repeat that?”, others will gladly repeat themselves as they recognize that you are trying. Most everyone I spoke French with when I was still a beginner was extremely patient and happy to help me struggle through my learning process.

One of the rooms blocked off at the Louvre.

When I finished the Teaching Assistantship, the question I had to ask myself was: How am I going to keep up my French when I’m no longer in France? 
I researched French meetups in my area and found a couple that had a decent following, but the meetups happened usually on days and times that weren’t great for my own schedule. So, I decided to create my own French meetupcurrently known as The Wandering Francophones. I founded this group in 2012 and have had a very consistent following now for 12 years. I have over 600 members currently, and we meet twice a month in local cafés and restaurants and speak French for a few hours at a time. French speakers of all levels are welcome and I encourage beginners to bring a notebook to capture any words or phrases that are new to them. They will often join and listen in to the conversation, adding their own contributions as they feel comfortable doing so. We regularly have native French speakers join us, and we even take international trips to Windsor where our bilingual Canadian friends can join us more easily!

If you give yourself the time and have enough patience, you, too, will be able to become fluent in another language. It has to start somewhere. Why not the bookstore?

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