As some of you may have noticed, I’ve taken a bit of time away from posting on the 9 to 5 Wanderer. This has been for a few reasons. First, work has been a bit insane over the last few weeks, and life sadly has been more 9 to 5 and less wandering. Secondly, glutton for pain that I am, I am taking two courses in addition to working full time, and our final exams are coming up. Needless to say, it has been intense. The first course is a statistical methods in econometrics class which as a math-hater, I swear I must have been delirious to sign up for, because it is entirely torturous. The second course, my French class, I adore, and is the topic of today’s post.
Travel blogging is chock full of articles about how in order to really learn a language, “one simply must go to the country and live among the people” in order to make it possible. When you’re a student, study abroad can be a great opportunity to do this, however, as we get older and transition from student life to post-grad life, taking four months off to move to a foreign country to “learn the language”, becomes increasingly unfeasible, both from a career advancement standpoint, and from a financial one. As someone very early in my career and just a little over a year into my tenure at my current organization, I’m pretty sure my boss would look at me as if I had two heads if I proposed such a leave of absence.
Having studied languages for years to varying degrees of success and having myself done the “move abroad” language acquisition method, I can categorically state that this is not the only way to effectively learn a language. It’s lots of fun and a great adventure, no doubt, but I’ve actually had some of my most successful language learning in a traditional classroom setting, in a plain old, un-glamorous, American classroom.
This brings me to my recent endeavor with French. Last summer I went to Brussels (a highly underrated European capital in my opinion). After numerous lunches and cafe visits and parties surrounded by people who spoke not only their native tongue and English, but also French, and having been told by an acquaintance that “Brussels is more culturally vibrant than Paris…if you speak French”, I decided then and there that I would not return to the city until I could speak the language.
I am fortunate in that I work at a university, and therefore have access to world-class nearly free education scheduled around my work hours. I understand that this is not the case for everyone, and that these courses sometimes don’t fit within the entry level budget. However, if you can find an affordable program, learning a new language can be an amazing way to gain a valuable new skill set, immerse yourself into a new culture, and prepare yourself for your next travel adventure, all from the comfort of your home city. It’s also a great way to make new friends, who chances are, share a lot of common interests like travelling and exploring new cultures.
Armed with my resolution to not return to Brussels until I spoke French, I enrolled in a beginner French course in the fall. Ten months and two classes a week, every week, plus hours of homework time in between, my French is progressing in leaps and bounds. I’m currently somewhere in between holding a basic conversation with someone in a shop, restaurant, or at a cocktail party, and having a simple business meeting in French.
One of the most exciting parts of this journey has been that in the process of learning French, I have become more deeply immersed in French culture than if I had just gone off and spent a week vacation in Paris. In learning the nuances of the language, I have gained insight into French life, and subsequently, have become a sponge for all things related to France. I scan French magazines and receive news alerts from Le Monde, I listen to the news in French on my commute to work, and I attempt to practice with any poor unsuspecting Francophone that crosses my path.
This is not to say that moving abroad isn’t a great way to learn a language, but in my experience, it has been just as effective if not more effective to learn it here in Boston, and hasn’t cost me tens of thousands of dollars in salary lost and tuition fees that I would incur had I quit my job to learn French in-country (and at this stage in my career and financial circumstance, I wouldn’t even consider that a viable option to be honest). It has given me something to be excited and energized about while I am currently unable to travel as much as I would like, and I have no doubt will make my next trip to a Francophone country an infinitely richer experience.
Do any of you know of other affordable language programs in your home towns or cities? Have experiences travelling to countries where you do speak the language versus ones where you can’t? As I said, I know enrolling in a university language course is not necessarily the most affordable of options, and will be writing a future post on language tools and courses I have found useful in my quest to learn French. In the meantime, wish me luck on my finals!
As always, Happy Wandering! -xo