The French Language Journey of an Immigrant

The challenges of French language acquisition and the importance of effective communication in adapting to life in Quebec Canada, viewed through the eyes of an immigrant.

About 4 years ago, I moved with my husband and two kids to Québec in Canada intending to settle down permanently. We made this decision in the first place because we were seeking stability, quality of life, and assuring the future for us and our kids.

Learning a language is an emotional roller coaster mixed with amazing highs and frustrating plateaus.

The French language being essential for integration into the labor market and collective life, I began my journey to learn French in September 2018 by enrolling in a part-time French program from the Gouvernement du Québec. Even though I completed the program, today I am at C2 level still racing against time for French language fluency.

Learning a language is an emotional roller coaster mixed with amazing highs and frustrating plateaus. At times you might feel that you have hit a brick wall. Motivation does keep you going, but only if you find the way.

The amount of times I was misunderstood due to bad pronunciation is countless.

The most challenging aspect of the French language to me was the pronunciation. Once I called a clinic to make an appointment with a doctor. The person who took my call asked me to spell my name and so I did. The next day, when I went to my appointment, the receptionist couldn’t find my file. Finally, it was found under the name of “Mena Élsalim” instead of “Muna Al-Saleh”. The amount of times I was misunderstood due to bad pronunciation is countless.

WhatsApp Image 2021-10-02 at 04.19.56At Parc régional des Sept-Chutes in Quebec

As someone who believes that “the whole art of language consists in being understood”, I got frustrated with myself. Obviously, I overlooked an essential aspect of the language. As soon as I arrived home I searched videos on Youtube to learn the French alphabet hoping that it will be enough to ensure that such an incident won’t repeat.

Of course, we are constantly learning. I discerned that the French alphabet was not enough: there are 26 scripted letters in the modern French alphabet. But there are at least 38 phonetic sounds in modern French speech. Learning to reproduce those sounds became my goal so that I can be better understood. One of the sounds that I badly wanted to learn was the “U” sound. There are many “u” type sounds that have subtle differences. For example, "chou" is cabbage, while "chaud" is hot; "tout" is all, while "tu" is you; “roue” is a wheel, while “rue” is a road… etc.

It just happens that we don't learn the phonetic sounds in French schools for adults. Adult students have to struggle for no reason during their learning journey when the answer is simple: the key to fast acquisition of language is a strong base. From my own experience, I believe that a beginner’s first steps in the acquisition of any language should be to focus on correct pronunciation and reading.

The problem that I encountered learning with Youtube videos was that there was no one to tell me if my pronunciation was correct.

Driven by a desire to be better understood, I started looking for ways to overcome my pronunciation barrier. In an attempt to learn the phonetic sounds, in early 2020, I found a few videos on Youtube and got myself committed to learning. The problem that I encountered learning with Youtube videos was that there was no one to tell me if my pronunciation was correct. Unfortunately that's what I focused on right from the start: reading aloud without guidance. Following this method I only built bad pronunciation habits that became extremely hard to break.

WhatsApp Image 2021-10-02 at 04.17.42

I spend a fair bit of time at the library

Hearing and reproducing unfamiliar sounds is one of the biggest challenges of learning a new language. I knew that I needed someone to teach me the pronunciation rules and guide me through this journey. Not only would it require a lot of patience from the teacher to teach non-native speakers to enunciate properly, but an educator should also have the skills to help with this aspect of the language in the first place. I did not think that I could ever find someone who would be able to help.

I started to feel demotivated and I started to lose hope as I couldn’t think of another way to improve my pronunciation. Until one day my husband introduced me to a phonetic specialist that he met on Twitter and who co-owns the innovative online French language school “Avecmavoix”.

These tutorials were the only place where I was able to make mistakes and have them all corrected through instant feedback given by my coach.

Considering that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest”, in December 2020, I enrolled in their Preparatory Sprint (named Phonetics program back then).

In my early years at university, I was always told that practice is essential when learning a language. That’s true. And it’s normal to make mistakes when practicing a skill, but to me “a mistake is only a mistake when you don’t learn from it. Otherwise it is a lesson”. That’s one of the things that I appreciated in my phonetics lessons. These tutorials were the only place where I was able to make mistakes and have them all corrected through instant feedback given by my coach. This also explains the fast progress that I have been making.

Avecmavoix has quickly become a place for me to develop and nurture self confidence. I must say, there is something about the learning environment in this school that makes me unafraid of making mistakes; rather, I want to make as many as I can. And I am confident that it will only bring me many more benefits.

Recently, the online French language school launched its brand new Fluency Sprint. I enrolled in this sprint as I felt the need to practice the sounds I learned in the Preparatory Sprint. Today, I am completing my sprint to fluency and my expectations are not only being met, they are being exceeded.

An article extract I read from French newspaper Le Figaro

There is much more than the phonetics that make you sound natural… or what some might call native. That’s what I learned in my Fluency Sprint. And yes, as a perfectionist, sounding like a native was my ultimate goal. It was just incredible that I have not only found the place where I can improve my pronunciation, but I also met a very skilled educator who could actually understand me and help me achieve my lofty goals.

Learning a language is a long journey that is challenging and emotional.

In my darkest and most frustrating moments, my coach was there to guide me and cheer me up. He would see me pushing myself to the limits trying to achieve what could be near-impossible and he wouldn’t stop me. Instead he would find a way for me to realize my true potential without becoming overwhelmingly disappointed with myself if I failed.

Learning a language is a long journey that is challenging and emotional. If you are striving to learn the French language then you will need to be extremely patient. Even native French speakers describe it as irregular and unscientific to a great extent. Nevertheless, if you equip yourself with the proper tools, you will guarantee success at the end of your journey.

Tune in regularly to follow my ongoing sprint to French language fluency with the YouTube playlist below, featuring newspaper article extracts which I read aloud. I wish you bonne chance on your own french language journey.

 

 

Accelerate my French language learning