Semester 2 Week 4. You’re sitting in a French oral class on the Scottish Referendum with a room of 16 students, none of whom are actually Scottish, and no one is talking. You try to string a sentence together in your head, but you can’t seem to find the correct ending for your verb and you back out, you tell yourself you can’t do it and that you’ll never be good enough.
Sound familiar? Well, take heart, you’re not alone. This one is for all the modern linguists out there who think they will never survive a year abroad. I know how you feel and after being through all these thoughts and fears I am here to tell you that you’re going to be just fine!
After attending all the possible Study Abroad talks and meetings organised by the French department (which I highly recommend doing in order to make sure you know what all your options are), I decided to apply to study in Montréal, Canada. Knowing I was going to a bilingual city somewhat comforted me and I was warned to make sure I didn’t take the easy route of speaking English, however, on arrival I discovered that actually Montréal is a lot more French than I imagined. The sign posts are in French, people speak French in the streets and shops, yet when you don’t understand they can explain in English and quickly wipe the confused look of your face.
Take for example the day I ordered a coffee and I heard the server ask me for my name, so I told her, “Kelsie”. She repeated the question, and so I repeated the answer this time slightly louder and slower, “Kelsie”. She then asked me the question in English, “Do you want milk?” Slightly embarrassed, I answered “Oui, s’il vous plait.” Who knows what I would have ended up with in my coffee.
From the beginning, I have been aware not to fall into the English-speaking trap, however, at UQAM that is next to impossible. It is known as the most francophone University in the world. At the introduction days the students and staff are only allowed to speak French. Although this can be a challenge, it is a great way to see that actually you can communicate in French, you start to understand more and more of what people are saying to you and your confidence levels start to rise. Language learning has a lot to do with having the confidence to just speak. You will come out with sentences you didn’t even know you could say. I have been very pleasantly surprised at how much French I can speak and understand and I look forward to further progressing my level of French. Language learning is quickly becoming a joy rather than a chore.
If you have spoken to Dougal Campbell about Montréal at all, you will have heard about the québecois accent. In my opinion there is no real way to prepare in advance for the accent but it hasn’t been a huge problem so far. You quickly get used to it and not many people have a very strong accent. My oral class here is aimed at familiarising students with the French spoken here in Québec which is useful.
I never imagined being able to sit in a three-hour French lecture and actually understand what is going on and now that is part of my daily life. If you are doubting your ability in a language like I did, know that study abroad is the best thing you can do to improve. Being immersed in a language is the best way to learn. I cannot encourage you enough to have confidence in yourself and just go for it. If I can do it, anyone can.
Get in contact with any questions or queries and I will be very, very happy to help.
P.S. Here is a link to a video which will give you a bit more insight into the québecois accent:
P.P.S. I just spent thanksgiving weekend in the woods with no electricity or running water and it was fabulous: