It has always been my dream to speak, read & write French. I recall when I started junior high school I was given the choice of two languages: Spanish or French. Even though Spanish was the practical and likely more useful second language, I selected French. I just loved the cadence of the language.
My decision was confirmed the first day of class when I learned the word “bibliothèque” – I was in love!
For the next seven years, I followed a traditional language acquisition journey. Grammatical rules, idioms, on versus nous and, of course, conjugation. My friends were impressed how well I could conjugate verbs but would still hesitate to speak. Frankly, so was I! When was I going to start speaking “fig in French” my British friends would (expletive amended) tease?
It was time to try something new. My French journey followed many traditional paths but I had never tried an immersion. I resolved to travel to a French language school in France and jump right in. Little did I know that my two week language immersion adventure would change my life!
I enrolled in a school located in Sancerre, France. So not only was I going to be outside of Paris, I was going to live in a village in the Loire, without a car and on my own. Given that I live in New York City; Sancerre would be quite a change of pace. I could only imagine what it would be like to LIVE in an apartment in a French village and immerse. I was so ready, or so I thought.
Truth be told, the Saturday morning I was to leave Paris and head for Sancerre, I panicked and almost did not get on the train. I was just plain nervous. But I quickly got my senses in order and boarded the train – I was on my way to Sancerre.
The two week Sancerre immersion introduced me to an international group of individuals with the same resolve to learn French in France. My class consisted of Michael from Australia, Roger & Carl from the UK. For the daily three hours of class, we spoke (some more than others), read and did some exercises. All in all, no surprises. (Plenty of “fig in France” expletives from the guys though!)
However, it was the extra-curricular activities that made my immersion memorable.
Carl had rented a gite just on the edge of Sancerre. As you can see, the view from his terrace was magnificent!
One day we decided to take our homework into the garden, enjoy the glorious weather and have a barbeque so a quick visit to the local market was required! As I stood in line to purchase some pâté (the pâté de campagne was not to be missed), I learned that when ordering pâté, you order a “tranche” not a “morceau”. I was corrected with a smile, have never made that mistake again and am told that I pronounce it “like a native”!
After dinner and the homework was done, there was a moment when I came face to face with a situation I had never encountered before and did not know what to do. You are probably asking yourself what could possibly happen at a barbecue?
Well, the answer is figs. Yes, figs. I have never eaten a raw fig. Oh, I have had fig tarts, fig pie etc. but never a fig in its natural state. Do you peel it? Do you cut it up? What parts do you eat? All these questions ran through my head as I watched everyone grab a fig. Suddenly, these words came out of my mouth:
“I have never eaten a fresh fig. How do you do it?”
I watched as all eyes turn to me and yes, there was disbelief in those eyes. The questions started coming: How is that possible? What do you mean? Do they not have figs in the States? All valid questions and inquiring minds wanted to know.
I was told to bite right into it, the figs were in season and would be perfect. So, I did just that!
And yes, it was perfect. My smile tells you everything. I asked Carl to capture the moment when I ate my first fig. Who knew these two photos would appear in my blog? As I said above, my two weeks in Sancerre changed my life.
I recall sitting on the steps of the school the next morning at the end of my two weeks waiting for the taxi. To say my time in Sancerre flew by would be an understatement and I knew was that this was not going to be my last immersion. I just needed to find the right immersion that would help me talk more and conjugate less. Guess what, with Experience France (XPF), I have found the right immersion!
I’m often asked “What is the difference between learning French in France versus online apps or Google Translate?” My answer: the best fig in my life will always be the fig I tasted in France. Apps can provide the French equivalent word for fig (figue), but it will not create the smile I had when I ate my first fig in France.