Lyon Charlotte Linehan

Language Barrier Tips

Charlotte – Semester Exchange to Catholic University of Lyon, France

Semester 1, 2017

Yesterday (February 6) marked my 1-month-anniversary since arriving in Lyon. I chose France because it was predominantly important for me to improve my French during this opportunity! I have a few close friends who have completed an exchange before but they all went to English speaking countries.

I knew that it would be a challenge to go to France but I was excited for this and how my language would improve. I enjoy it still, but it has had more of an underlying aspect of isolation than I had anticipated. I have made some lovely friends through other exchange students and uni classes, there is always an opportunity to meet somebody new. It does feel somewhat limiting though, as there are a lot of people to whom I cannot speak or at least speak well because of our language barrier. This is of course a great motivation to practice, practice and learn quickly! I think it’s important to understand that it is a very concentrated exposure to a language, and that it takes time, and that depending on how much effort you put in progress will come and you will grow in confidence and comfort.

Some helpful things that I can suggest for exchange in a non-English speaking country (within my first month) are:

  • I could not more strongly suggest finding a native speaking roommate/housemate to improve quickly. Even though listening and taking classes is helpful, I believe speaking is the fastest and most effective way to progress in a foreign language. If you cannot find one however, it is not an issue as there are other things you can do.
  • Find the country/city’s equivalent to your favorite radio station at home and have that on in the background if you want to listen to music. I have done this and, even though some English songs are played, all the discussion in between is of course in French. Good unconscious listening practice. Plus, you can discover some great new foreign music!
  • If, like me, you don’t have a television in your accommodation, search on YouTube for your country/city’s local or national news. I have found a station that streams French news 24/7 and I watch it sometimes as practice (handy because it has pictures to help!)
  • Another thing I have found is that in French classes I learn a lot of new vocabulary, but if I do not use them in a deliberate speaking situation I cannot retain them as well. When you are in shops, at markets, at the supermarket deli, in a café, listen to what other native speakers say, how they order and describe things. I have found this is an easy way for me to learn new words. And then using them yourself is of course the best way to remember!
  • Another little way to practice new words is going through the self serve section of the supermarket – if you have fruit/vegetable items that you don’t know the name of, try and find them and you’ll learn a new word! Simple but helpful.
  • Finding native speakers to befriend is undoubtedly a guaranteed way to fall into the French (or otherwise) way of life and language. This can be challenging as different factors may contribute such as communication, culture, confidence, but there is no need to be discouraged. Your lifestyles are quite different so this may take time as they will already have their routine and friendship groups formed. Stay friendly and open-minded.
  • Finally, as much as people might try to change to English when they hear your accent (of course to help you out), keep responding in the foreign language or resist the urge to revert immediately back to English. The foreign language is their first language so obviously they won’t mind, even if you struggle a little bit!
  • Another enjoyable way to practice the language is going to the cinema. A lot of English films are shown internationally. In France for example, English speaking films can either be seen in their original version with french subtitles, in french, or in french with english subtitles – lots of different options! The best way to watch a foreign film is with subtitles in the same language as the film, if you watch with English subtitles you automatically end up reading the subtitles and not listening to the corresponding words.
  • In many cities of many countries over the world, there is a program called ‘tandem’ which is basically pairing up a foreign speaker with a native speaker who would both like to learn each other’s languages. I.e. I would meet up with a french native speaker and we would practice speaking maybe an hour of french and then an hour of english over a coffee. It is worth googling or asking your uni about. It’s an casual more social way to meet new people and practice speaking with somebody who can properly correct you.

At the end of the day, you’re on a time limit, and you have to focus on study and whatever else everyday life requires. So, you already wake up multitasking! I cannot encourage studying in a non-English speaking country enough! It’s so fascinating and so rewarding. I am only one month in… who knows maybe my next blog post will be in French!

* This photo is from a day trip that I went on with 7 other girls I’ve met in my course-between us there are girls from Scotland, Austria, Hungary, Canada and Australia.