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Learning French – the joys and struggles of learning a new language

The Filipinos are raised bilingual or multilingual, the latter most true for people born in the province. Our ethnolinguistic nation has two official languages, Filipino and English, and an estimated number of over 187 dialects. Metro Manila, also known as the National Capital Region (NCR) is inhabited by the Tagalogs, the second largest ethnic group in the country. This is where I came from, consequently putting me under the bilingual spectrum. While I loved coming from the city — the place that many rural dwellers aspire to move to for studies or career prospects — I was none too thrilled with my bilingual state. I wanted to be, as people from the provinces with their own dialects, a multilingual.

In May 2017, I made it happen. I enrolled myself to an evening class at Alliance Française de Manille (AFM) to learn the French language.

Why French?

The Filipino language is heavily influenced by other languages like Spanish having been colonized by the Spaniards for 333 years. The spelling, as well as the pronunciation of these languages, share many similarities that it makes more sense or easier for us Filipinos to pursue Spanish. But I am a little bit ambitious (that or I just have this weird compulsion to burden myself) that I set upon learning French.

Kidding aside, I find the French language beautiful and elegant; the words are spoken softly with a melodious rhythm that is pleasing to the ears. Thus, I picked French.

French language history

French is the official language in over 29 countries worldwide. It is among the Romance languages that evolved from the Vulgar or Colloquial Latin. Once upon a time, France and Belgium were part of the Gaul, an ancient region in Western Europe. Back then, the people spoke Gaulish, a Celtic language until the Roman invasion in the 1st and 2nd Centuries. The colonizers imposed upon the use of the Roman language causing the eventual phase-out of Gaulish.

Before the diminishing of Gaulish, there are over 150 words passed on to Latin. Over the years, the language of the people of Gaul continued to evolve and change, including adaptations from some other dialects and the German language. And this is how the French language came to be.

Learning French in Berlitz

I had my first stab at learning French in 2009 at Berlitz, a language center founded in 1878 by Maximilian D. Berlitz. He developed what is now known as the “Berlitz Method” that teaches learning a new language through conversations. The center offers courses in different languages, such as English, Filipino, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Fookien, etc.

berlitz-makati-philippines

We were a small group, a class of four female whose interests in choosing the language vary. From day 1, our professor spoke to us in French. Naturally, we were all stumped the first time, struggling to make sense of what she was saying. It was only hard at the beginning, soon, much to our surprise, we were already getting it. She used visual aids that proved to be helpful in helping us figure out what she was trying to convey. I had been the keenest student in the class, never missing a session and quickly picking up the lessons. In most instances, I was the first one to get it, perplexed at my classmates’ seemingly perpetual state of confusion.

Berlitz’s focus was not grammar structure but daily conversations. However, we could no longer progress to the second session when one of our classmates expressed her disinterest to continue. Berlitz could not open a class if the quota of at least four students is not complete.

Thus, my bid to become multilingual has been postponed.

Learning French in Alliance Française de Manille

May 2017, eight years after Berlitz, I enrolled in Alliance Française de Manille, a French language school in Makati. Alliance Française is an international organization established in Paris, France in July 1883. It now operates in 137 countries including the Philippines where there are two branches, Makati and Cebu.

AFM offers French classes to everyone, adults, teenagers, and children. They have regular classes, workshops, online courses, private tutorial, even corporate services. Because of my work (plus I don’t want to give up my weekends), I selected the evening classes. It’s two hours of class, twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday.

I paid around P7,000 on my first enrollment, inclusive of a reference book, workbook, and one-year individual membership. AFM membership provides perks such as 10% discount on coffee and drinks at their in-house café and restaurant, Le Coude Rouge, access to multimedia library services, 10% discount on language classes, and invitation to cultural events.

On my very first class, the room was packed, brimming with students held with eagerness to learn a foreign language. As time went by, as to be expected, the numbers noticeably dwindled. A few have stopped showing up to class, others enlisted no more for succeeding sessions, some went abroad or moved to some other places, etc.

Challenges of learning French

I considered myself the “star student” in my Berlitz class, unfortunately, the brilliance stopped there. At AFM, I fare rather miserably particularly when it comes to the listening part. AFM’s teaching style is different from Berlitz, they are all about structure, the proper usage of grammar, rather than the practical use, a method I regard as more difficult. When in Berlitz, I could already order coffee in a restaurant after just one session, in AFM, I couldn’t properly engage in a decent conversation until the A2 level.

Oftentimes, I find myself questioning my intelligence and abilities, more so when my classmates are doing so well. Every session, I feel like I am constantly bombarded by rules and information that my brain is taking some time to absorb. Before I could even retain any of these, we are already learning something new, another grammar rule, a pile of new vocabularies.

I also don’t get to practice. After class, I couldn’t converse with anyone in French. I am relatively close with my current classmates but even if they are better than me, we are all on the same boat. Nobody is fluent yet to correct when it calls for, to teach what we don’t know.

French nuances

Moreover, there are some things about French that are entirely different from my native language and English, making the process of learning, extra challenging, such as:

1. French pronunciation – How it is written may be entirely different from how it is pronounced, for example:

French words English meaning French pronunciation
pas not pah (silent “s”)
pourquoi why? pooh-kwah
comment ça va how are you? commo-sa-vah

2. French accents – A great number of French words use accents:

  • cédille (ç)
  • aigu (é)
  • circonflexe (â, ê, î, ô, û)
  • grave (à, è, ù)
  • tréma (ë, ï, ü)

A word changes meaning or context depends on the use of accent. For example, the word parle (speak) will be a past tense if written as parlé.

3. French gender – This is a gendered language, meaning all nouns are either masculine or feminine. Also, there are similar words that have a masculine or feminine form, for example:

English French Masculine French Feminine
tired fatigué (when used for a man) fatiguée (when used for a woman)
preposition, “a” un livre (a book) une pomme (an apple)
he/she is a barber il est coiffeur elle est coiffeuse

4. French conjugation – Probably the most complicated part of learning French is the conjugation. This is when you change the form of the verb depending on the tense. Here’s an example for the commonly used tenses:

English French present French past French future
i eat, i ate, i will eat je mange j’ai mangé je mangerai
you eat, you ate, you will eat tu manges tu as mangé tu mangeras
he eats, he ate, he will eat il mange il a mangé il mangera
we eat, we ate, we will eat nous mangeons nous avons mangé nous mangerons
you eat, you ate, you will eat vous mangez vous avez mangé vous mangerez
they eat, they ate, they will eat ils mangent ils ont mangé ils mangeront

Note: Second person in French has two forms; informal (tu) and formal (vous).

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. French is hard I tell you.

French B1 Level

A French language course has six levels:

  • A1 – Beginners
  • A2 – Elementary
  • B1 – Intermediate
  • B2 – Upper Intermediate
  • C1 – Advanced
  • C2 – Master or proficient

Just last Tuesday, the new session began and this time, I am on Level B1. According to AFM’s site, B1 level students can do the following:

> understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.;

> deal with most situations likely to arise whilst traveling in an area where the language is spoken;

> produce simple connected text on topics, which are familiar or of personal interest; and

> describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions, and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

Current status

Even as I floundered through our classes, I have made some progress. I can read French and have a general understanding of the text. I know how to pronounce words correctly (at least most of them), I can string simple sentences and talk to someone. I can write and express a thought even when my grammar structure is far from perfect. I can now say with some confidence that, je parle un peu française (I speak a little French).

When I went to France last December, I was able to use what little French I know to communicate with the locals. Granted it was broken French or in Tagalog, “barok,” the important thing is, I was able to express myself enough for French people to understand me. It was a great feeling that regardless of my inadequacies in French learning, it appears that my money, time, and effort have not been in vain.

Want to learn French? Here are my tips

It is never too late to learn another language. I was already 34 when I enrolled myself to AFM. Adding a new skill or finding education in whatever forms is never a bad idea. We can always improve ourselves.

Whether you want to study at Berlitz or AFM, it’s up to you. I recommend both, the only thing is, Berlitz is not French-centric and there is always that chance a class gets dissolved, as what happened with mine, when they are not able to meet the quota for the number of students. I recommend Berlitz if you want to be able to speak French in no time.

If you want a more formal and standardize approach to learning French in a classroom setting, go with AFM.

Also, don’t be like me, a lazy ass. I know that I could do better by listening or watching French movies, podcasts, or music everyday but I don’t. I only do it when it’s convenient because I got other things to do. I’m still working on getting that motivation to take this more seriously. Back to my point, you could acquire the language a lot faster if you put in the time.

Enjoy and make friends. One of the best things that I like about going to AFM is meeting new people who have now become my friends. My current class has been together for 4 consecutive classes that we are now tight. Whenever we can, we go out for dinners.

cosmic-vegan-restaurant
Dinner at Cosmic with my classmates with our Swiss professor and his wife

Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. If French is a new language for you, it is perfectly normal to not get it right away. Whenever I get frustrated, I always tell myself that I am just like an infant, still getting introduced to the words, still learning how to speak. If you think about it, it’s not that far from the truth. When we were kids, our vocabularies are not rich, in fact, it took us many years to build our language’s repository in our heads. Thus, it is okay to make mistakes, it’s okay if you’re struggling a little bit. The important thing is to keep on trying. Remember the words of Jacques Cœur, “For a valiant heart nothing is impossible.”

“À vaillant cœur rien d’impossible.”

Jacques Cœur

You will get there too, believe me, I am not the most brilliant student in my class yet I can now speak French.


Information

Alliance Française de Manille
209 Nicanor Garcia Street,
Bel-Air II, Makati City
Telephone no. +63 2 895 7585
Email: info@alliance.ph

Berlitz
2F Peninsula Court Building 8735
Paseo de Roxas, Makati City
Telephone no. +63 2 813 2231
Email: cco-mk@berlitzph.com



Thanks for reading!

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5 Comments

  • Reply
    LJ
    March 21, 2019 at 3:05 PM

    I took the courage to enrol in a class for a 3rd language ( I speak Ticaonon, Tagalog, English) so 4th na ba dapat? Hahaha. Watching your IG stories made me think that I can do it too. I can learn another language, that I love. ,ありがとうございます。

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      March 21, 2019 at 10:02 PM

      Hello LJ, I am happy to know that my IG stories have helped to encourage you to learn another language. It gives me joy when I get to inspire other people because it makes me feel like I am contributing, in my own little way, to society. This is the first time I’ve heard of Ticaonon, I googled and saw that it’s from Masbate, is this correct? Anyway, good luck with your language learning!

      • Reply
        LJ
        March 24, 2019 at 2:59 PM

        Yes, Ticaonon is our own dialect from the island of Ticao. The mainland Masbate has their own dialect, but it’s pretty similar, but with so many words that has opposite meaning. that can cause lots of misunderstanding. We are the province of Bicol that will get really pissed of to be called “uragon”. In our dialect it means “malandi”. LOL

  • Reply
    Mata
    March 21, 2019 at 3:05 PM

    I was once told that our country even has eight major languages, including Tagalog, Cebuano, Kapampangan, Ilonggo, and the other four… I forgot. Then the rest are dialects (if memory serves me, although they can be languages, too, if they can stand alone, without Tagalog). So indeed, it’s easy for us to learn a new language coming from a multilingual country. The way you basically broke down learning French made it look interesting. Or maybe it truly is. I myself, it seems, would want to try to learn it. Probably from Berlitz. Unless I should decide to take it seriously, in which case, AFM, as you recommended, is a more appropriate option for standardized learning. Keep up the fire. Language, I reckon, is your strength. You might as well aim for C2 and then become a French language teacher one day… Pourquoi pas ?

    • Reply
      Marjorie Gavan
      March 21, 2019 at 10:05 PM

      I am actually dreaming of teaching French someday, even in an informal setting, so taking C2 is definitely a possibility. I’m hoping though that I’d take the class in another country like France. I want to be “legit” hahaha… I would definitely encourage you to take French classes, although based on your location, I think you should take the weekend sessions.

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