5 strange things about learning french at fsi

1. Sometimes your professor doesn’t show up for class, so you find yourself spending all day in the language lab, not really motivated to do anything, but also not brave enough to skip out and go home. So you decide to write a blog post about French instead. (That counts for something, right?)

2.  Since the reason you’re being taught French is to perform official diplomatic duties, you’re taught only to speak formally. In French, like Spanish (and probably other romance languages too), there are two ways to say “you.” One of them, “tu,” is for family and friends, while the other, “vous,” is formal. You’re only allowed to use “vous” in class, so, naturally, it’s what your instincts are trained to say. This results in some awkward interactions when you go to French-speaking meet-up groups outside of the FSI bubble. Apparently addressing people formally makes them quite uncomfortable.

3. Also because of the job for which you’re being trained, your vocularly is a little… bizarre. You might, for instance, have a great deal of trouble doing a class exercise that asks you to pretend to be a waitress at a seafood restaurant, because you don’t know the words for any types of fish, or even any other restaurant-related things, like utensils, or drinks, or desserts. But when your class switches to discussing the recent Al-Qaeda kidnappings in Niger, then you’re golden. Of course you know the words for hostage and to kidnap and terrorism and uranium and mining industry and ransom and diplomatic negotions, etc. That stuff comes up all the time!

4. While you of course want to learn to speak French well, your immediate goal is to pass your end-of-training exam. So as you begin to learn what does and doesn’t matter for said exam, your game plan changes. For instance, you might find yourself in the language lab one particular teacher-less Thursday morning studying the subjunctive tense not because you actually want to know it, but because you’ve heard that you don’t need to know it, so you want to know how it’s used well enough that you’ll be able to avoid actually using it.

5. You share a language lab with students learning a handful of Asian languages, so there are strange unidentifiable utterances coming from every which way. This makes you feel bad for ever complaining that French is hard.

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3 Responses to 5 strange things about learning french at fsi

  1. Bridget says:

    ugh, tu vs vous can be so confusing sometimes.

    enjoy your teacher-less day!

  2. I liked the post as I am learning French (in order to get language points!). I often wonder if my tutor understands that my phone test probably won’t cover things like dolls, scarves, etc. Good luck with the training

  3. Anne says:

    vous is weirdly formal.. and silverware is important- voila… la fourchette…

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