Let's talk about French, baby, Rather, let's parler de Français, okay?
As I made my 101 in 1001 list, I wanted to focus in part on rounding out my skills and talents...one of which is speaking decent French. Little did I know that almost exactly a year after I put this goal on my list, I'd be IN France, with the perfect opportunity to use my language skills! Our trip provided a great impetus to check this one off the list early, and was an equally great litmus test of just how far I came in my efforts.
For background purposes, a little info on my previous French education: I started taking French in seventh grade, when all middle schoolers took a series of seven week "wheel" classes to try out languages, arts and other "random" classes. I fell in love with the language instantly, and took it from eighth grade all the way through college for a grand total of ten years of study. During that time, I spent a week in Paris while studying abroad and discovered just how awesome it is to speak the language in France. After I graduated, though, there was little opportunity and even less reason to speak French...it didn't exactly come in handy at Ernst & Young in my audit role, after all. Once our trip became official, I started to worry about how much of the language I'd lost in the four years I hadn't spoken, read, written or studied it.
I started looking at the best tools to self-teach/re-learn the language around Christmas 2014. At first, I was considering Rosetta Stone, but it turns out that's best suited to language novices and wouldn't teach me much on the level at which I could already speak the language. I wanted to focus more on re-learning the grammar and expanding my vocabulary than on basics.
Emily and I looked at a wide variety of sites and programs, but ultimately I ended up downloading the Duolingo app to my phone around mid-January. The app integrates translating, writing, and speaking by using the phone function to record and rate your pronunciation. Awesomely, it lets experienced speakers test out of early levels with an initial assessment...which worked perfectly for me! From there, users can set a desired time commitment per day, and the app will send reminders to practice. Users level up as they complete "concepts" focused around vocabulary or grammar themes, and skills need to be "refreshed" by continuing to work levels.
I tested out of the first fifteen-ish levels and ended up committing to twenty minutes a day, which I did more or less hit from January through late April, when we left. Some of the levels and sentences the app taught didn't make much sense or seem super user friendly (I definitely didn't need to know how to say "The big bear is wearing a yellow vest" while in Paris!), but it did force me to brush up on basic sentence structure and really helped with consistency.
How'd it work out? Um, amazingly. I'm not trying to brag, but, actually, I'm going to brag for a minute here. I apparently speak awesome French, based on the outcome of our ten-day trip. I could communicate more or less fluently with about 90% of the people, in 90% of the situations we found ourselves in, for the entire trip. From simply ordering in restaurants and directing cabs, to carrying on full-fledged conversations about the cultural differences between different countries' tourists or the growth methods of different varietals of champagne grape, I did absolutely fine.
Even more exciting was that the French people I found myself chatting with regularly commented on and seemed surprised/impressed by my French. Not gonna lie...those compliments totally made my day every time I got one. Being told I had a great accent or an awesome vocabulary, or that I spoke French better than any tourist a person had encountered, was not only flattering but made me want to continue to practice and try harder. It may not be the most practical language, but I was absolutely thrilled to be able to truly converse with Parisians while in Paris. I definitely hope I can continue to retain my re-awakened French ability in some way in the future, but even if I can't, I'm so glad I took the time and put in the effort to improve my skills before our trip!