I’ve been learning French properly for over 10 years now, after a French teacher from what was to become my secondary school began visiting our primary school class weekly to teach us the basics of the language. However, I’ve had an interest in the language and have been interested in learning phrases from it for longer. Years ago, my Dad took some evening classes in the language, and he clearly kept some of it in his memory, as I remember him teaching me some basic words from it when I was very young (in my first class at primary school). There was also various ephemera from efforts to learn some of the language (likely for holidays that my parents went on) dotted around the house when I was a child, including a set including a workbook-style book, a cassette tape and a VHS tape (well, it was from the 90s, I think), and I remember watching the tape and being interested in what was on it.
When my class started having weekly lessons, when I was in Year 6, I definitely gained an awareness of some important fundamentals of the language, including the alphabet, pets and how to say when your birthday was, which involved this classic song:
When I started secondary school, the teaching was similar (likely to bring us all up to a similar level), but involved more French writing rather than just primarily auditory learning of the language. Our teacher also happened to be French, something which I think gave us a greater insight into French language and culture.
I chose to study French at GCSE, and ended up in quite a small class which had a good standard of teaching. I found the listening and reading papers easy enough to do (they mostly involved multiple choice box-filling) but the writing was tougher and I remember really wanting to try and improve my speaking grade (which I think I managed to do in the end). During this period, a French family friend sent me a French verb table book – something which I still have and has been really helpful over the course of my learning French! So much of being able to pick up a language is to do with your learning of different commonly-used verbs in different tenses, as well as verb rules, I feel.
This was evident in my preparation for the start of my A Level course in French. I did the preparatory work for my A Level courses thoroughly, as I was going to a new school and wasn’t sure what they’d expect us to have done in the booklet of preparatory work. This involved learning a number of verbs in different tenses for French, something which I really feel boosted my abilities (so the work paid off!).
Both years in my Sixth Form (which combined teaching from the girls’ and the boys’ school), I had two French teachers, as well as a half-hour weekly session with a French speaking assistant who the whole class had. I also took the first two trips to France I have living memory of – in November of my AS year, I went on the French leg of a French exchange, which involved work experience in a clothes shop in a town in the north-west of the county as well as a trip to Paris! Ironically, I then went on a trip to Strasbourg to go to the European Parliament in the March straight after, as some of us won a public speaking competition (just before I went on the exchange trip, I think). For my A2 year, our final assessments included a spoken presentation of a French book or film from four options (I chose François Truffaut’s film Le Dernier Métro) and an essay on a different one of these options (I can’t remember if I wrote on the novel Manon des sources or the film La Haine! I think it was the former. The other option was Albert Camus’ L’étranger). It was the only time so far I’ve ever properly studied French literature or film.
As I’ve previously mentioned in my blog, my university allows you to take 30 credits of your degree in a foreign language (or another module, as a matter of fact), so I’ve taken a French class every year at university – all of which being taught predominantly in this language. Because I had studied French at A Level, I was placed in the first advanced French class for my first year at university. Both this year and my second year involved teaching in reading, writing, speaking and listening to push my French to a higher level, as well as consolidation of grammatical structures. I remember being at the end of my first year and wondering if I had really improved much, before listening to some French and realising how much more I could understand!
This year, I’m taking a business class in French. I chose it as I feel knowing a language at business level really seems to be the pinnacle of picking it up. So far, assessments have involved summarising two articles and a listening extract into a piece of writing and giving a group presentation on a product we had devised. My final assessments will involve handing in a file of work, including an essay, on a topic connected to work in France, and an individual job interview. It really feels like all my work in the language has built up to this final interview.
I’m certainly not fluent in French yet (though I’d love to be) and there’s still a lot to learn. I’d also love to be able to use the language in more realistic contexts by travelling to French-speaking countries. However, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’ve been able to understand most of a French TV programme, and get a good idea of what’s being said on the radio. Learning foreign languages open up a whole new world to you, and I’d like to learn more in the future.