A couple days ago we had to do a homework assignment which was to conduct a survey on the residents of Montpellier on a certain theme. For example, my theme was music and I asked questions such as “What is your favorite artist?” and “How often do you listen to music?” but in french, of course. To find participants I went to a park that is a popular hangout spot for students from a nearby high school. When I got to the park I went up to a group of students and asked if they could help me with the assignment. I learned that they were also studying french and came from Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. They didn’t live in Montpellier so they couldn’t help me out with the survey, but we continued to talk. I found out it was one of their birthdays and that they were having a small celebration in the park. I started talking to them and I explained that a friend of mine named Mustafa was coming to meet me in the park. To my surprise, they knew Mustafa because he used to go to the same school as them in Montpellier, but then switched to ILP (the school I go to). It was an interesting coincidence, but things got a lot stranger.
I talked some more with the birthday girl, André, and found out she was from Venezuela and was studying in Montpellier for a year. I briefly mentioned how I knew two other people from Venezuela and she suddenly stopped me when I said one of the names. We quickly went on Facebook and found out that we had another mutual friend: Eduardo from CSW class of 2015! Incroyable!
To recap: I’ve travelled over 3,500 miles from home, yet I’m still making connections that go back to our small community of less than 400 students at CSW. What baffles me even more is that all of this information was exchanged in French. I think what has helped me improve my French more than school or conversations with my host family, is interactions like this where I’m forced to use only the French I know to make connections. When you’re talking to someone in the park or on the street you have to think harder and listen more intently. In the classroom or at home I’m able to look up words or use bits of English to convey a message. On the street I can’t do this, but it actually helps me retain information better. Its the struggle of conveying a message, the time spent searching for or explaining a word or phrase in French, then finally learning what it is you needed, that imprints the language and new information in your memory. When you quickly look up a word on your phone or use english you don’t retain the information in the way same. Its the cycle of struggle, retention, and utilization in conversation that has improved my French the most.