Thursday, June 9, 2011

Le Chien a Mangé Mon Devoir (The Dog Ate My Homework)

Since moving to Luxembourg a little over a year ago, my French has gone from nonexistent to awful. And this is actually something I’m incredibly proud of! Hey, progress is progress.

When I moved here, I knew a few important words that had stuck in my memory from previous vacations, like s’il vous plait (please), merci (thank you), pardon (sorry), ou est le toilette (where is the bathroom) and un autre verre de vin, s’il vous plait (another glass of wine, please). But that was all. Hardly enough to live on in a country that only recognizes French, German and Luxembourgish in an official capacity. I knew that I’d be able to get by on English to an extent, but hey, I’m in Luxembourg; I should be speaking a language spoken here, not expecting everyone in Luxembourg to speak the only language I speak. So, I started researching language classes.

On My Own
I researched, and I researched. And I could not believe how expensive classes were: Berlitz charges €720 just for a class of 48 online sessions! Too expensive for this House Frau. (For that price, hopefully everyone walks away fluent!) So, I decided that I’d try to learn French on my own. I listened to “French for Dummies” on my iPhone, I downloaded a free French radio app so I could listen to French music and French speakers on the go, and I tried an online site that my mother had read about called Livemocha.

Screen shot from
Livemocha is actually a very, very cool idea – basically, it’s a site that runs on shared knowledge. When you register (it’s free), you’ll let the program know your primary language and any other languages you speak, as well as the level at which you speak them. Then, at your own pace, you can begin to work your way through lessons they offer in 35 languages. At the end of each lesson, you’ll be asked to take both a short speaking test and writing test covering what you’ve just learned. After you submit your tests, you’ll be asked to grade the tests of someone who is trying to learn your language. So, you’re not just a student: you’re also a teacher.

Back to School
But, it didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to find a class. I wanted to be able to ask a teacher questions, I wanted a regular schedule, and more than anything, I really wanted to meet more people living in Luxembourg. Then I read a notice about registration for the spring semester of language classes at the Institut National des Langues (INL), where a full four month semester of classes for three days a week, two hours each day would only cost €170. I made a note in my calendar and made sure I was at my computer to reserve a spot the minute the school began accepting registrations.

INL offers courses in German, English, Chinese, Spanish, French, Italian, Luxembourgish and Portugese, so, naturally, their web site is only offered in French. So, you’ll need to have Google Translate at the ready for your first visit to the site. When you register for the first time, you’ll be asked to pay a €10 deposit and to sign up for a 10 minute test, which is given to all new students to help you figure out the appropriate level for the classes you’ll be signing up for.

When I showed up at my appointed time, I was ready to be tested. I had assumed that the test would be for small groups of people and would consist of listening and writing exercises. So, when I walked into the test room and saw several people sitting at computers and several students sitting on the opposite side, I was confused. Was this just another registration area? Maybe they’ll tell me where to go to take the test.

My #1 most helpful French cheat sheet.
Download it by clicking here.
A woman motioned to me and I sat down. She started speaking to me in French, so I asked her “Parlez-vous anglais?” She continued speaking in French. So I upped the ante and used my fancy phrase, “Je ne parle pas bien de français.” Then, just in case she hadn’t understood my pronunciation the first time, I added: “Parlez-vous anglais?” She continued speaking in French.

And then I realized: this was the test. Sigh.

In any case, once I realized that the simple one-on-one conversation we were having was my test to place into a class, I pulled myself together and was able to understand and answer several of her questions (though not in a grammatically correct way, mind you). At the end of the “test” the woman told me that I was “a beginner”, she thought, “but not a beginner, beginner”. What a nice surprise…I wanted to give her a hug!

Anyway, once you’ve taken your test (now that you know how things will go) you’ll be able to select your class time and frequency. Classes are offered each day of the week at several different times of day, and you can register for as little as one class per week to as many as five classes per week.

Though the size has shrunk as the weather has grown warmer, when the semester began on February 28 there were 20 students representing 17 nationalities in my class. As someone who grew up in small and medium-sized towns in the Midwestern part of the United States where most of the faces I passed every day were the same color, it was incredible to me that in just one room I could be surrounded by so much wonderful diversity. Most of my classmates already speak more than one language and I’d say that almost 75% of the class speaks at least some English. (Helpful to me, I suppose, but I wish I could speak some of their languages instead!)

That wasn’t the only fun surprise I received on the first day of class. I also learned that day that the class would be taught in French. Silly me – I’m not sure why I had thought the class would be taught in English. Anyway, learning French in only French would be better; I’d have less of a crutch to lean on.

My teacher wears only black and somehow works the incredible miracle of never, ever getting white chalk powder on her clothes, even though she writes on the blackboard for at least half the class. Even though we all tested into the class, the learning levels are so different. There are a couple of people who I am not sure have learned more than two words, and there are a handful of people for whom everything clicks so quickly that they look bored. Still, it’s interesting and entertaining to see each others’ progress as the classes have progressed and we’ve gotten more comfortable with one another. I love my class and I’m really going to miss it when it ends, because I genuinely like everyone sitting in the room.

It’s kind of funny, though, how, even as an adult, there are certain things about school that never go away. Everyone in class usually sits in the same place they sat on the first day of class, even though there’s no assigned seating. The class is also full of the same personalities that anyone who has ever gone to school will recognize; there are know-it-alls, class clowns, some “Chatty Cathys” and the bobble heads, who nod and smile as if they understand every single word even though the teacher knows that they aren’t comprehending a thing. (I’ve definitely been in each category a few times.)

Anyway, the semester is winding down and we’re coming up on testing time. So, everyone (including me) is nervously wondering whether the teacher will recommend they move up to the next level. But I love the attitude of my German classmate, who announced as we left the building today: “It will be okay. Like Barack Obama: Yes we can!”

Registering at INL
INL offers courses in both Luxembourg Ville and in Mersch. If you’d like to learn a language in either spot, and you’ve never enrolled with INL before, you’ll need to register for a testing time. Having a testing time guarantees you’ll get a place in a class, but if you’re worried about securing a specific time slot, try to sign up to be tested on the first day of testing if you can.

Fall 2011 registration for new, first-time students begins at 8:00am on Monday, June 20. (Info here, in French) At this time, you’ll pick the date and time you’ll be tested for placement into a class. It looks like the first day that you can sign up through the web site for a time for a placement testing time is July 18 (also 8:00am). The semester runs from September 28, 2011 until February 17, 2012. (Don’t worry; they’ll give you plenty of time off for the holidays.)

Don’t forget: the INL site is only presented in English. So, be prepared to do a lot of copying and pasting into Google Translate.

Bonne chance! And maybe I’ll see you in class this fall.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's funny that your teacher only wears black, my two french teachers in college who were both from France (Betrand was from Djon, I forget where the Aureille was from ) always wore black too!

    So how did you do on your test?