In my latest newsletter, I wrote about the realities of moving to a new country and learning a language. I discuss what it’s like for younger kids and older kids. I share favorite resources. I talk about the other kinds of “mini-languages” that you need to learn that you might not have thought of. I’ve been hearing from lots of people who are thinking about making a move to France and are especially curious about language skills. Do they need to learn French before moving here? Do the kids needs to learn French before enrolling in school? If you’re someone who is curious about what our language-learning experience has been like, the newsletter has a whole lot of info you’ll hopefully find helpful. I’ll share an excerpt here, or you can click to read the whole thing (it’s free!). Here’s the excerpt:
Something you might not realize until you’re in the middle of it is that learning a language means acquiring four different skills: Listening Comprehension, Reading, Speaking, and Writing. These might seem like they are all essentially the same thing, but they are actually separate. You can understand someone who is speaking French, without being able to speak French yourself. You can read French, without being able to write French. If you want to learn to do all four, you have to work on each specific skill. And I would recommend doing so in the order I listed: Listening first, writing last.
I’m especially having a hard time with the speaking part. To really do this well requires immersion; spending a lot of time with people who are only speaking French, where you can’t fall back on English. I rarely if ever get this kind of opportunity, because I’m working in English all day long. And it’s a pandemic, so get togethers haven’t really been an option.
Another issue for me, is having lots of bilingual people around me. Ben Blair speaks French well. The kids speak French very well. And most of my French friends here also speak English well. So I’m rarely forced to speak French for extended periods of time. I can run errands, and do the basics, but I need much more practice.
One more reason I’m not progressing as fast as I should be, is that I know just enough French to manage. I studied French in high school, and a semester of college. I feel like I didn’t gain much from those studies at all — though I still have a poem memorized. Hah! — but those studies did give me a head start on reading and a few basics. (Ben also studied French in high school.)