Learning a New Language in College

If you have ever taken a foreign language class, you will understand the difficulties of learning the vocabulary, grammar rules, pronunciation and culture behind an entirely new language. Throughout middle and high school, I took classes for Spanish and American Sign Language, respectively. The classes themselves were fairly easy— usually just memorization regarding vocabulary and conjugations.

Which is precisely why when I decided to start studying French in college, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

It’ll be an easy distribution credit, I told myself.

How wrong I was.

I entered the classroom of eight other students, the smallest class I have had since my time here, and sat down next to the first familiar face I came across, excited to begin learning a language I had been curious about for years.

When the professor walked in, she immediately began speaking in an unfamiliar tongue.

I looked around in confusion, wondering if I had the wrong room— was this not French I?— but a few other faces seemed to harbor the same loss of understanding.

As the class went on, she made gestures as she spoke, indicating with her hands what she could not with her words. I spent most of that class feeling hopelessly and completely lost. Eventually, she projected Powerpoint slides onto the whiteboard with written words in English, which made me exhale an internal sigh of relief.

There was an intensity in that class that I had never experienced before in a foreign language class— as somebody who has never been introduced to the French language, I struggled to find words similar enough to English or Spanish that I could use to help me piece together the meaning of certain phrases and sentences.

Everything about it was a challenge; the pronunciation, the vocabulary, the listening. It required a sort of mental energy and dedication that no other language class had required before, but with the challenge came a sense of fun and accomplishment.

I felt as if I had been thrown directly into the deep end of the pool; the professor’s objective seemed to be to immediately integrate her students into the language, which led to a lot of struggling in understanding what she was trying to say, along with struggles in reading the textbook and workbook, which were all completely written in French.

However, she provided a lot of resources for her students to practice the language. For instance, a weekly conversation group with a French tutor to supplement the information from class, and opportunities to meet other French speaking students, such as during the weekly Friday “French Table” in Prentiss Dining Hall.

Learning a foreign language in college has its fair share of demands and difficulties, as does any class, but it can be extremely fulfilling as well. Supposedly, it takes about 1,000 hours to really learn a new language, so to anybody who is taking or considering taking a foreign language class in college— we’ve got a lot of practicing to do, so good luck to you and au revoir!

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