July has brought a lot more work with this new month of classes. Unlike in June, where we had one class each day for at most three hours per morning, our schedules during this month change daily and can last as late as 17h30 (5:30pm). While this means a lot more work is on our plates, it also means we have the opportunity to learn more and improve our French. Classes began on Tuesday following a brief orientation among our MSU group on Monday morning, followed by a free afternoon during which I and a few friends saw Man of Steel at the local theater (while it was in English, we could read the French subtitles to pick up a few words and note how they were translated from English to French).
Before settling into our July courses, I returned to my host family in Tours on Sunday night to find new roommates. There are currently four other guests in my house; three are also taking classes at the Institut, while the other is visiting for the third year after being a student here in the past. I have enjoyed the opportunity to speak French with more people at the dinner table and learn more about the differences in their cultures and backgrounds.
Speaking of different backgrounds, I have been exposed to a lot of other cultures while in my classes. In June, our “introductory” class of sorts only included MSU students, but the Institut mixes all of the students into numerous classes based on the results of their placement exams. The levels range from 1 to 9 and there are multiple sections in each level so that each class includes roughly fourteen students, creating a manageably small group for speaking and working together. One major difference between such exams in the United States and in France is that while you might expect your results to be privately delivered to you or available online, here they are all posted in the courtyard of the Institut on the first day of classes, sorted by last name for everyone to see. Working my way through the crowd that had gathered on Tuesday morning, I eventually found that I had been placed in the eighth level. Placing so highly has been somewhat of a challenge for me so far, since my initial impression has been that most of the other students in my class are more advanced (even though some have been taking French for as little as ten months, much less than my seven years’ experience!), but I know that being exposed to such skilled French speakers will undoubtedly improve my own skills. Because of my placement level, I also have the opportunity to take an exam that, if passed, will grant me a diplôme d’études en langue française as a sign of my French knowledge and would also allow entrance to a French university were I to pursue that option.
DELF: diplôme d’études en langue française — Diploma of French studies
In addition to having longer class periods during the week — while our classes in June totaled 33 hours, we now have 20 hours of class for each of the four weeks in July — we also have more varied coursework. The schedule operates more akin to my fifth-grade schooling in the US than anything else, really — instead of having a different professor for every aspect of the language, we have two professors: one who focuses on written work and the other whose focus is oral studies. Throughout the week, we participate in courses such as oral comprehension, grammar, written production, and phonetics. I finish by the noon lunch break on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but have classes until the late afternoon on Tuesday and Thursday. My favorite course right now is the phonetics class, during which half of our group goes to a computer lab, puts on headphones with microphones, and participates in exercises that test both our grammar and phonetic abilities. Despite having to listen to recordings of myself after doing the exercises, it has been enjoyable and informative so far, much like the rest of my coursework.
My fellow RCAH majors at MSU will surely appreciate the amount of transculturation that is occurring here in our classes and in my host family! Between the five of us staying with my host family, one is Spanish and another has Greek parents, with the rest of us being American. My fifteen-person class has students of many more varied cultures: there are about fifteen students in our class (the number has changed almost daily with people entering and exiting the class to move to different levels) with countries of origin that include the United States, England, Italy, Germany, Spain, Korea, Japan, and Kuwait. It has been interesting, first of all, because French is an easier language for speaking with some students than English, but also because we have been able to learn a bit about each country and their culture while discussing subjects like stereotypes and discrimination. The weekly tests take the RCAH experience away a bit, of course, but the discussion topics have made me feel fairly close to home (not to mention the ever-missed opportunity to dodge road construction walking home from class every day!).
Last week was packed with events beyond class as well. Since Thursday was the Fourth of July, everyone dressed in red, white, and blue and (bien sûr — of course!) used it as a prime opportunity to party. We’ll see how hard everyone goes for Bastille Day, France’s annual celebration of independence, on the fourteenth. On Friday afternoon, our group also took a trip to Vouvray and the Château de Chenonceau. We began our excursion at a wine cave in Vouvray, which included a brief tour of the cave and a tasting of three regional wines. (I also bought some jam to share with my family that I am looking forward to tasting when I get home!) From there, we went on a boat and floated upon the river Cher, getting a view of the Château de Chenonceau from the water before getting a closer look.
Fortunately, we have been gradually improving the amount of time that we have spoken French together as a group as well. Whereas most afternoons in June were spent speaking entirely in English, we are transitioning into using French with each other as much as possible. Our goal this week is to speak nothing but French to each other; we may have already failed that during lunch this afternoon, but hopefully keeping our minds on it will mean we’ll get there before the end of the month. Bonne chance (good luck) to us…!