Strasbourg (I) – Le Cours

After my exchange in the University of Sheffield and two weeks of wandering in Scandinavia, I found myself again in France. This time in a lovely small city in the Alsace region called Strasbourg, next to Germany, as a student. I studied French for a month with Alliance Française and stayed in the student dormitory of Université de Strasbourg.

I have wanted to learn French back in secondary school, but I didn’t start until Year 1 in university. Started from scratch, I had been learning French for 1.5 years in HKU before going to Strasbourg. My grades improved from B- to B+ and I probably realized I have a bit of the so-called “language talent”. But I have never felt confident using the language with native speakers (except my teacher), or interested in using/ receiving information in French in my spare time. At that time I set myself a goal to watch at least 30 mins of French TV everyday and listen to French songs instead of English ones, but I feel tired because my brain was primed to think French as an academic subject and I just don’t want to “study” after class.

Later on while I was in Europe I travelled to a few Francophone cities. I tried to put my language skills in use, but they never came handy. Things I wanted to say stucked on the tip of my lips and I could only recall the word or the phrase 3 seconds after the conversation has ended. At some point, I was so scared that I avoided to use French instead.

Now back in HKU and the first semester is over (actually the second is going to start in a week), I feel the French classes are so easy and fun, I didn’t have to prepare too much for the weekly conversation sessions (which I did when I was in Year 1 and 2), and I became so much more confident giving presentations in French. A few weeks ago I even signed up to participate in a French speech competition and performed a 15 minute speech in front of the selection panel, which composed of all my professors in HKU.

Outside the classroom I am now capable of having a French-only conversation with the exchange student from Paris. Maybe not yet with a group of French students. For instance my friend and her roommate always speak in English with me because (I guess) 1. They want to show off their English and 2. It seems a bit awkward to suddenly switch to French having us spoken in English the whole time. I have also started a part time job in a French bookshop (I just couldn’t stop bragging about it) a few months ago. Now when I take my shower, I speak to myself in French. (Don’t judge, some people even sing.) It definitely means something, because French has changed from a classroom thing to something I can relax myself with.

So, after sharing a long journey of my language learning, you wonder what really is the point and how is it related to Strasbourg. I have struggled how to write this blog post because I do not want to “review” my classes in Alliance Française Strasbourg, but also not a general list of “reasons you should do a linguistic stay” which you can easily find on many other blogs and websites. I am aware that some focal points make the post easier to read, so I would like to share a few things about my classes, my extra curricular learning activities, and some “tips”. Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert in language learning (let alone French) nor giving advice. I know most readers of this blog are just my friends, but as some are also polyglots (yes I am talking about you Lucy and Ashna), I am just hoping to share my experience and have my friends giving me back more valuable opinions.

1. Choose the least popular city among language students of your own country

The first day I went to my class I did not see no one from Hong Kong or China and just one girl from Taiwan. To be honest this is great because I have no excuse not to use French. If there were HK students, it might be awkward for them to speak in French with me. I am pretty sure about this as from my own experience in HKU and Sheffield, HK students often mistaken me as unable to speak Chinese (as I always start in English) and complain after I show off perfect Cantonese with some local slang (so they pay less attention to the content which sometimes can be too sarcastic …) I realized many of my classmates in HKU went to France for summer school as well, but they said in their cities (Lyon and Paris), there were a lot of students from HKU and CUHK and they just ended up using Cantonese after class.

2. Smaller classes are good for speaking/ serious stuff, and larger for listening/ fun stuff

Small scale classes are good for learning for obvious reasons, but slightly larger classes are not too bad either. Our class was one of the larger ones and there were 13 students. The higher level classes have less than 10. I very much enjoyed learning with the other 12 because we were from 5 continents and there were so many things to share in class. Listening is my biggest weakness in French and the larger class size definitely helped me to become more attentive to what others are saying.

3. Tinder is actually quite good – if you have met the right people

I know what I am saying. “Tinder ??? The hook-up app ???!!” That’s why I said “if you have met the right people” ! Yes, I have used Tinder, and I used it extensively when I was in France. It is the perfect “textbook” for casual/ informal French. Indeed there are other language learning apps, but for me those apps made the purpose too obvious and they are just not so natural. On Tinder the other person is oblivious of my real purpose (i.e. to learn French texting, and some pick up lines, haha), I get what I want and not in an awkward way. You will learn how to insult when you reject to hook up with that cocky French guy, and also how to be the sweetest flirter who doesn’t appear too horny or desperate.

4. But of course, engage in real life conversations too

I don’t necessarily mean meeting the person you met from Tinder (although it is one way). However I would like to share a few experiences. Last summer there was a heat wave in Europe and it was SO hot. One day it was too hot the tram stopped working for an hour or two. People were waiting in the tram station and I was sweating with a friend while a lady started talking to us. We asked why did the trams stop working/ delayed for so long. She replied because the heat made the rail swell. We then had a 20 minute conversation about the weather, the transport etc as we wait.

Another time was less pleasant, which was about complaining the dirty sheets in my dorm room. I of course practiced before going to the office, but I didn’t expect the complain will last for an hour. Nevertheless, I let the office lady know what I wanted and she eventually sent the lady to change them for me.

None of the classes I took, whether in HKU or in AF will teach me how to deal with these situations. This is also the very important reason why me spending a month in Strasbourg works so much better than classroom studying for 1.5 years. I then realized the type of language learner I am – conversational, and hence I found corresponding ways to improve my French. Another reason the stay worked so well is probably about the “sense” of the language, but I will have to think on that to really know what it means for me.

I will end this post here because there are already enough text. This is not all about Strasbourg though ! There will be another post about my life in Strasbourg- what I have really done. Bisous !

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