Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mais Oui! Learning French...Again

Oui, I did take a year of French in high school, but haven’t retained a bit of it.  That may be a slight exaggeration; I’m still able to translate the occasional word or two, but that’s it.   The Spanish I learned stayed with me much longer, probably because I began taking it in grammar school in NYC, continued through high school and took four quarters in college. Even with all those years of study, it’s been decades since I’ve been able to carry on a conversation in Spanish. 

The idea of learning French started with my husband discovering Duolingo and trying to learn the language via online study before our summer trip to Normandy.  He wanted me to do it with him, but I just never could find the time, and he wasn’t all that successful in his attempt.  So, we made our second trip to France with just enough French between us to get by. 

Our Normandy traveling companions have visited Paris quite a few times and even dream of owning an apartment there or at least renting one for a month some day.  That prompted the idea of taking an immersion course in French in--where else--France! We girls discussed finding a program in a picturesque town outside of Paris and spending 2-4 weeks studying the language and wandering the town. For some reason, that’s a much more appealing learning path to me than Duolingo.  On our first trip to France a few years back for a bike and barge trip through Burgundy, I read an article about a woman living in Dijon and taking French courses at the local University of Burgundy, so I immediately offered up Dijon as an option. 

Upon our return home, I Googled courses around France and found quite a few interesting options. I’ve gotten pretty fired up about doing this someday, if my partner in crime is still up for it. The University of Burgundy, for example, offers four 20 hour weeks of lessons.  The rest of the time you spend wandering Dijon and using your newly learned French in markets, restaurants and shops.  Sounded like a plan, until I discovered I could do the same in Provence at the University of Aix-Marseille III  or in Nice at the University of Nice (Riviera).  All these choices give me plenty to dream about, although our practical husbands suggested we could likely find something similar in Quebec.  Maybe, maybe not!

Meanwhile, I read an article in the WSJ by Gabriel Wyner, author of Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It. Amazon bills it as “The ultimate rapid language-learning guide!” His premise is that connecting new words to images, like thinking of an actual cat when you learn that cat is le chat in French, is the key to rapid and permanent learning. So yes, that might be a less expensive way to learn French, but wouldn’t learning French in France be much more fun and memorable? Here’s what I think:

Four week language course: $2400. Round trip flight to Paris: $1600. Food and Wine: $500++.  The experience of learning French in a French town: Priceless.