Name: Sera Kitchen
Type: Education Abroad
I spent five weeks this Summer studying French at Université Laval in Québec City, Québec through the FLE program (FLE is a French acronym that translates to French as a foreign language). The program consisted of mostly Canadian students, but I was one of the many international students. As a part of the program, I was enrolled in three different French classes that totaled to six credit hours. I was in class Monday-Friday for approximately four hours a day, and I participated in many different activities and excursions each day after class and on the weekends.
Prior to this program I had studied French since I was in kindergarten, but I had never heard the Québecois French accent or been to a Francophone area. Additionally, I had never been to Canada. When I arrived, I was extremely anxious about speaking French to the locals. I could not understand half of what they were saying, because they pronounced their “r” sounds differently and had an entirely different type of French slang that I had never heard. I felt like an outsider, and I was struggling to communicate in situations that seemed so simple – it took me 10 minutes to translate my order at “Café Starbucks” the first time, because I didn’t know if it was customary to translate each component of my order or just to pronounce the English terms with a French accent. Because I had lived my entire life in a society where I could speak my first language, I had never been in that position before.
The foreign language education system in the United States is not the greatest, and I realized throughout the program that most of my French education had been written. I placed into a fairly high level in the program, but I felt that my grammar and written skills were much higher than my listening and conversational skills. I struggled a lot in conversation, and it was very difficult for me to adapt to the Québecois accent. I made many new friends through the program, however, and we helped each other practice French even in our free time. We would often speak to each other in “Frenglish” and give each other vocabulary and grammar assistance. Additionally, interacting with locals in Vieux Québec and around the malls, restaurants, and grocery stores also helped us to improve our French.
By the end of my time in Québec, I became much more confident in my French. We were required to speak French at all times during class and other FLE activities, so I learned how to communicate what I was trying to say in French, even if I couldn’t say it exactly the same way I initially wanted to. Especially during the beginning of the program, the locals would automatically switch to English if we were struggling. This happened often in the Vieux Québec region, because it is known for tourism and many of the workers know enough English to communicate. However, by the end of the program, I was able to make it through extensive conversations in French with locals without them having to switch languages.
Being from the United States, I learned a lot about both Canadian and Québecois culture. Even though we often assume Canada is very similar to the United States, there are many qualities that set it apart. Poutine is everywhere. Even McDonalds and Tim Hortons have poutine in Canada. Canadians also stress the difference between “College” or “Cegep” and “University”, whereas we use the terms interchangeably. In Québec, the laws and customs are designed to preserve their Francophone culture as much as possible. Students in Québec must attend French schools throughout their education, unless they have a valid petition indicating that one of their parents attended English school in the province. Additionally, all of the signs for every restaurant, store, etc. must be in French or have a component in French that describes the establishment. There are no longer pennies in Canada, and there are federal and provincial taxes on everything, including food. Traditional Québecois music sounds like bluegrass with a Celtic influence, and nearly everyone uses public transportation and brings their own bags to the stores.
I have been studying French for 15 years, but this was my first experience actually being immersed within a Francophone society outside of the classroom. I am currently a French minor, and the credits I received at Laval will be applied as 6 credit hours towards my minor. Being in an immersive language program showed me the importance of immersion in acquiring a second language, and I would like to continue to improve my French throughout the rest of my life. I hope to eventually become fluent enough so that I might be able to live or work in a Francophone society.