For as long as I can remember foreign languages have been a part of my daily life. My dad has an online business teaching Latin and Greek. He grew up in Europe and therefore also has a good hold on some German, oh and did I mention he knows some Spanish too? When we were younger we would spend many mornings around the table learning Latin and watching short documentary type videos entirely in German. I learned more Latin than German because Latin was what Dad teaches. Latin and German were the first two languages I remember learning (besides English of course) and I’m definitely not fluent in either but I can pick up words here and there.
Then this past summer when we traveled to Greece I picked up on some Greek. It’s harder than Latin in my opinion but the pronunciation came very easy to me. In Athens, we would ride the metro all over the city and I would listen to the speaker call out the station names in English and Greek, then I would say them over and over in my head until I could rattle them off easily. When I came home my friends were astonished at how much “Greek” I had picked up in only three months. Of course, I did know a few real phrases in Greek but I was mostly just saying the names of Athenian subway stations.
When we worked with the refugees in Greece I picked up my first few words of Arabic too. I still remember how to say “star” and “hailstorm”. They also taught us hand games in Arabic and I can still hear their happy voices chanting in Arabic around us.
Lastly, when we took a tour in Israel we learned to say the Shema in Hebrew which is the most important verse in the Bible according to the Jews.
All of this goes to say that rooted in my mind is a deep love for language. I love the sounds and accents of other languages. One of my favorite things about Europe is the mixing bowl of different cultures and tongues. You can’t just understand everyone because there are so many different voices and languages. This, to me, is exciting and beautiful.
But as much as I love the many languages in the world I can’t speak them all so I decided to pick one to study for now. During the summer, I was laying on my bed in Greece, staring up at the ceiling and I decided to learn French. I’m not sure what made me think that but I remember a fierce feeling of determination and inspiration. I think I chose French because it is one of the most common languages besides English, it’s beautiful, and I could see it being useful in my future. I did not start right away but a little while later I downloaded Duolingo and found a French book at an exchange library and the journey began. It has been almost a year now and I still love it and I’m still learning with no intention of stopping. Having a knowledge of Latin as a foundation made it even easier.
A few weeks ago we were driving home from the library and Dad told me I should write a blog post on my progress in French. I said it was a good idea but I didn’t think I had a good enough grasp of the language to merit a post. But here I am writing this out so clearly I changed my mind. This isn’t at all to brag about what I’ve learned but I wanted to share my experience and tell you how I’ve been doing it.
I have heard so many people say that they learned French in high school but don’t remember a word of it. I also have quite a few friends who have begun to learn it with a textbook and have no interest in it at all anymore, even though they started out excited. Why is this? First of all, academic textbooks are extremely boring. I think very few people would disagree with me on that. Secondly, if you do not keep practicing and exposing yourself to any skill consistently then it will begin to fade.
I am only a sophomore in high school but I do not want to lose my grasp on language now or at any point in my life. I have been teaching myself French by what I call the natural method. This means, I don’t really have a teacher, I most certainly don’t have a textbook, and I’m making it up as I go along. The main source of learning for me is the app Duolingo. Millions of people across the world are using it to gain the basics of a variety of languages. It is pretty easy, it’s fun, it’s extremely accessible, and I highly recommend it.
But what about when I’ve gone as far as I can go on Duolingo? Well, I do have some other ways of learning that do not involve any kind of course or teacher per say.
1: Books. I have one book entirely in French and a French-English Dictionary. This isn’t the most orthodox way to pick up on a language but it keeps me sharp and I can pull it off the shelf any time and go at my own (slow) pace.
2: Movies. One of the best ways I’ve found to familiarize yourself with the pronunciation and flow of speech with any language is by watching movies. I’ll take a movie I have watched multiple times before so that I have some idea of the dialogue and switch the language to French. I will sometimes add French subtitles too to help me visualize the words.
3: Other French speakers. Fortunately, French is not an obscurely spoken language. It’s pretty easy to find other people who speak it. Even though I may not be quite conversational in French yet, talking with other French speakers is a fantastic way to learn. I have at least one friend who has agreed to text me entirely in French if we can help it. I have asked her to point out my mistakes to me in English because I’ll make much more progress that way.
4: Cultural Immersion. Naturally, I would love to visit France myself someday and talk with the locals and feel the culture, but not everyone can do that. And I may not even be able to do that myself. Nevertheless, cultural immersion is one of the best ways to learn a language as well.
I have a long way to go. Learning any language is not easy, but with perseverance, and determination I hope to be fluent someday. Maybe in ten years I’ll look back on this post and be grateful that I made the decision to learn French one lazy summer afternoon.
Until then, Au revoir et bonne journee!