These past few weeks have been full of little moments of preparation. Not only have I been preparing in terms of paperwork (see previous posts) but there has also been an element of mentally preparing myself for the challenges and difficulties of living in a country where the main language is not my native one. Living in a big city has meant that there have been a number of great opportunities to practice meeting and talking to people in French.
A friend introduced me to the idea of volunteering for this fantastic festival which happened to coincide nicely with the end of our exams. I was dressed in splendid traditional provençal costume, complete with a magnificent broad rimmed hat, and sent off to Le jardin des enfants. I happily spent three days painting faces, reading stories, colouring and drawing (and sticking down fresh drawing paper) and trying to stop lavender scented playdough from drying out too quickly. Whilst many visitors were anglophones, there was a suprising number of people who were happy to speak French with me- even a few young holidayers who could only speak French! It was a wonderful opportunity to build my skills, especially when working with little kids as they don’t always speak very clearly. I had a brilliant time, enjoyed some fantastic French food and met some incredible people.
This online platform allows you to find groups of people in your area who meet up to share a particular pastime. A search for ‘French’ came up with a few different choices- over the past few weeks I have tried out a few different groups. They have been a great way to practice introductory conversation and small talk, as well as deeper topics as the conversations progress. Although it was a little intimidating to arrive at an unknown place and to seek out a group of unknown people for a conversation, it was good to do- especially as that is essentially what next year will be composed of, at least initially.
When I received an email from a tutor inviting students to attend the ASFS 2014 Conference, I wasn’t too sure that I wanted to go. After all, I am very much a newcomer when it comes to French Studies (and further, in-depth study in general). But, since it was free (for full-time students) and an opportunity to challenge myself and immerse myself in French language, culture and history, I couldn’t let myself pass. I couldn’t attend the full conference, but was intrigued by the seminars, presentations and talks that I was fortunate enough to be there for. As part of the conference, a talk was given by the Former French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, who had just recently published a book on Napoleon. It was great to hear from such a variety of speakers, on a variety of topics, and to challenge my listening and talking skills in an environment in which I felt slightly out of my depth.
Alliance Française: Marché de Noël
Another great space to meet and chat in French, savour French food and check out a few potential Christmas gifts. I was positioned as a volunteer within the Cafe/Bar in the back garden. It was good fun and I think I am now quite competent at taking orders, stating the price, and handing back change in French (who knows how well I’ll play the customer though). Just don’t put me too close to the coffee machine- I’ve still got a lot to learn when it comes to Nespresso!
All in all, I’ve been quite busy with these little volunteer projects- and very much enjoying myself in the process. Knowing I can have these conversations is important, as it gives me greater confidence at my ability to express myself during my time away.