When it comes to France and the French language, you come across a variety of expressions depending on the region you are living in. I spent a year in Aix-en-Provence, France, which is located in the south just north of Marseille. This region carries a very strong accent and for foreign students, it is very difficult to understand. Upon my arrival, I was focused and ready to immerse myself in all things French; but, I quickly learned that my language training had not fully prepared me for the concept of accents. I was scared to speak and I found myself questioning what I knew.
The first time I went out to lunch, I wanted a glass of white wine. In French, without an accent, you say, “Je voudrais un verre du vin blanc s’il vous plaît.” (This means “I would like a glass of white wine please.”) The server looked at me and asked what I meant and I had no idea what he was referring to. After a few quizzical expressions, he said “Tu veux du vang?” (You want some wine?) Of course I didn’t know what “vang” meant until he brought over the bottle of wine. You see, with a strong southern accent the French word for wine, vin, becomes vang. Once I understood this, I realized how important it is to understand the cultural cues that languages give us.
The trick to overcoming these challenges is to get out of your comfort zone and push yourself to learn more than the rules of grammar. It is not easy for most of us and it is a frustrating process. What we have to remember is that even though a second language is “new” for us, it has been evolving in other cultures for a long time, and it is just as apart of that culture and English is to us. As we experience frustrations with language, we tend to forget that a language represents a culture. We are taught to respect other cultures and we need to remember that language and culture are one in the same. This was true for me when I had difficulty understanding the southern French accent. I did not have a grasp on Provençal culture therefore, I could not have a complete grasp on the language.
For me, learning French is not just an accomplishment. It is a need and my passion. I feel that my love for the language was the key to overcoming the barriers it presented. Of course, simply loving a language cannot make you learn it but if you combine your passion with a little hard work, you will be successful.
Brittany Rose is a CEA Alumni Ambassador from California State University – San Marcos. Brittany studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence for the 2011/2012 Academic Year.
If you're interested in studying abroad in Aix, but nervous about learning French, check out CEA's new Summer programs at IAU College - Liberal Arts & Studio Arts. All classes are taught in English!
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