by Cate Engles

There is only so much a classroom can give a student, especially when studying a language. Of course students receive the basic grammar, important vocabulary, and conversational skills in their language classes, but nothing is as valuable than being completely immersed in a language as well as its culture. Having to think off the top of your head when responding to a local ensures you are improving your fluency and understanding of a language.

My summer excursion to Nantes, France can attest to this idea. To further my development of French, I signed up for a program that advertised complete language immersion in a French city. With only one year of studying French under my belt, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I left for Nantes on June 30th and was not scheduled to return to the States until July 29th. There was no doubt I was nervous and many questions sprouted in my head. What if I can’t communicate with anyone? Will my roommate be nice? What was everyone going to wear? Nevertheless, my month in France answered all these questions and the outcome was something I will never forget.

When I arrived in Nantes, I had already met kids all from many different states on the trip over. Upon finding our dorms or chambres, I met my roommate. We became fast friends, not out of necessity, but out of authenticity. She was from Singapore, but had grown up all over the world; she first learned French when she lived in Geneva Switzerland, but as she’s moved from country to country she lost touch of the language. Her accent was much better than mine, but we were at a similar level otherwise and were put in the same classes. The two of us were able to create a strong group of friends, and by the end of the program, it was incredibly hard to leave each other.

Everything was in French. Our classes, our meals, even our down time never had a word of English spoken. Though this can seem like an impossible request, it truly became easier the longer we were there. Not only were we all immersed in the language, but in the culture as well. We ate traditional French breakfasts or petit-déjeuners, and rendez-vous-ed for dinner on French time. When we went into the center of Nantes, we could interact with locals, peruse farmers’ markets, and of course, shop. It was the complete French experience.

Not only did this trip give me valuable friendships and experiences, but it allowed me to learn the importance of immersion as well. While one is completely removed from their traditional life, they can catch on to the small things that leads them to fluency of a language. Slang, cultural expressions and allusions all add to the language we learn in classrooms. So, if the opportunity comes your way, do not hesitate to immerse yourself in something completely new.