I recently spent a month in southern France practicing my French. In a previous post, I talked about the ways I made progress in my French outside the classroom. In this post, I’ll talk about my experience in class.
The Institut Linguistique Adenet, or ILA, is a French language school in Montpellier that runs classes at all levels throughout the year. Students can join at any time and stay for as many weeks as they want. I chose to do four weeks of lessons beginning in early July 2018.
Before arriving, I had to take an online placement test to confirm my level. The test was multiple choice and included grammar, vocabulary, and listening comprehension questions. Based on my test result, I was placed in a class at the C1 level. In the Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR), level C1 is the fifth of six levels used for defining someone’s proficiency in a foreign language.
On the one hand, this level was appropriate for me. I had studied French for several years before this, so I was already comfortable with the grammar and had a decent vocabulary. My listening comprehension was also pretty good, depending on the context.
On the other hand, though, I had previously spent much more time in the classroom than practicing in a French-speaking environment. As a result, my spoken level was lagging behind. The placement test did not include a spoken component, so I was concerned I would struggle at the C1 level when it came to speaking.
In the advanced courses at ILA, the focus of the lessons is on communication rather than on grammar. That isn’t to say that grammar is ignored, though. Most of the lessons began with a review of a particular grammar concept. However, rather than going over conjugation tables and the like, we mainly worked on the nuances of various grammatical concepts.
For example, we studied things such as idioms, words with multiple meanings, and phrases that require the use of certain words over others. Often, these types of concepts just require memorization, so I have plenty of material now for further study.
The bulk of each three-hour lesson consisted of a group discussion activity. The teacher did a great job of varying the topic and format of the discussions to keep things interesting. Over the course of my four weeks at ILA, we discussed everything from online courses to armies of drones.
Sometimes, we watched a video or read an article in order to get background on a topic before discussing. Other times, we worked in groups to research a topic and prepare a brief presentation of it to get the conversation going. We also had discussions in the form of debates and even press conferences.
I took my classes during July, which is the peak time for the school, with around two hundred students. Despite this, my class remained between seven and ten students throughout my stay. So, when we had group discussions, everyone had a chance to contribute and get both practice and feedback.
Once a week, we did an in-class writing assignment. The prompt was usually a mildly controversial question relating to one of the topics we had discussed that week. The task was simply to write a few paragraphs in response to the prompt in a given amount of time, with access to a dictionary.
The teacher read all of the writing assignments and marked errors without correcting them. Then, our task would be to review the errors and determine how they should be corrected. Some of the errors were just simple mistakes resulting from writing under pressure without having time to revise. Most of the other mistakes were related to word choice and nuances of meaning. This exercise really helped me understand the types of mistakes that I tend to make. It also helped reinforce the grammar that I frequently have trouble with.
To finish each lesson, we usually played a game. Some of the games were geared towards vocabulary recollection – we played Scrabble one day, for example. Other games were intended to stimulate conversation. One such game is the popular party game Werewolf, in which the group collectively has to determine who among them secretly holds the werewolf character card. In another game, we each played a role in a murder mystery scenario in which the “investigators” had to solve the case by interrogating the rest of the class.
I really enjoyed this aspect of the course. The games provided a fun way to continue speaking all the way to the end of the lesson. In addition, they helped break the ice with the other students in the class. This was important because with the number of students joining and leaving each week, the makeup of the class was constantly changing.
Overall, I felt that my month studying at ILA was valuable. Four weeks gave me enough time to get into a routine and to make noticeable progress in the classes. At the same time, it was not so long that I began to get bored or feel like additional classes would be less helpful.
My speaking ability is still lagging behind my comprehension ability, and I do not think that I have reached the C1 level when it comes to speaking yet. However, I did notice an improvement. I revived my French that I hadn’t used in so long, and gained some new skills along the way. The next challenge, then, is to keep the momentum going now that I am no longer in France!