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Language Barriers in the French Alps

A view of Grenoble and the Isere River that runs through the city

One of the first major differences I noticed when first arriving in my new home for the semester was that I no longer heard English. Of course, this is exactly what I expected coming to France to study French, but after a long flight without sleep and a stressful time bag-finding experience, it was a little offsetting. After that first day and some much needed rest, I was ready to take on the French-speaking world. But living in a country where the primary language spoken is not your own can sometimes be overwhelming. Here are a few of my challenging experiences and how I got through them.

Interesting language encounters happen daily when living in a foreign country. People ask you questions on the tram that you either don’t understand, or are unable to respond to. I feel less confident doing assignments in class, because there is always the chance that I’ve misunderstood the professor. And reading French isn’t always better! Just this last weekend I went with a group of CEA students to a monument thinking we could climb it by foot, while in reality there was a small exhibit at the foot of the monument. 

  Of course, living with a French-speaking host family comes with its own set of difficulties. I can understand my host mom, Elise, almost all the time. Sometimes there will be words that I don’t recognize, but I can go off context clues to get the general gist of the conversation. She speaks clearly and articulates well, so although communication with her takes some extra effort than speaking in my native language, it normally is fairly easy. On the other hand, speaking with my host dad, Jean Claude, can be nearly impossible. He has a gruff voice, and speaks without articulation and hand gestures. 

Luckily it is only the rare occasion that I have to communicate one-on-one with Jean Claude; the majority of the time both halves of the couple are together and I can gauge my reaction from the way Elise acts. When I am left alone with Jean Claude, its is not uncommon for me to think he is asking if I want more bread (pain) at dinner, and then end up with more wine (vin) instead. 
Studying abroad takes a certain type of patience. In order to be happy, it is imperative to develop an understanding that I might not always comprehend everything that goes on around me, and it’s completely acceptable! In the end, it’s these simple errors and miscommunications that will really help me to learn new phrases, and hone my phonetics skills. Even the most normal day in Grenoble leads to adventure through language! 
Aimee Goffinet is the Fall 2013 CEA MOJO for Grenoble, France

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