How Much Can You Learn in a Week?
Published: November 5, 2018
by Rochelle "Chloë" Eastman
I first came to French Camp on a dare. But now I’m an official French Camp groupie having attended the adult program 15 times. Adults come to French Camp for slightly different reasons than kids. Often, we like to travel and have found it is much more enjoyable if we can speak a bit of the language. But many of us also come just for the experience. We want to keep learning, have fun experiences, and meet interesting people. Plus, we get to spend a beautiful week in a cabin in the woods eating French food and giggling with new friends like we are sixteen again.
How much French can you learn in a week? Well, at home I could probably memorize a long list of vocabulary, or work on complicated verb constructions, but, that doesn’t help me actually use the language. What I gain at French camp is listening, speaking, and seriously trying (often poorly) to communicate. I don’t get to use French often, so even after fifteen years, I am not perfectly fluent. But I am much more comfortable.
A long time ago, I studied French in high school and college. Most of it atrophied due to lack of use. Phrases like, “La plume de ma tante est sur la table,” may have been great for learning grammar and sentence construction, but they are not very practical in day to day conversation.
At camp we are immersed in the language and the culture. I have learned vocabulary the same way I learned English, by hearing words in context with repetition. It is easier to learn food vocabulary when you are eating or cooking. Real conversations force us to search for useful vocabulary. By osmosis, I’ve learned sentence structures that just sound right, although I couldn’t tell you if it was the past perfect progressive tense. Just like in English, I can’t describe it, but I can use it.
Culture makes the language come alive. At camp, I’ve learned a bit about French cinema, politics, education, history, etc. Interesting topics makes you want to understand and participate. My worldview has been enriched by having instructors from France, Senegal, Cameroon, New Caledonia, Algeria, and Quebec. I’ve spoken French while making croissants, hiking in the woods, playing African drums, paddling a canoe, and attempting numerous craft failures. I’ve mumbled along to songs around the campfire when I did not understand the lyrics, nodded politely when I didn’t want to look stupid, but I have always had a good time.
Every year at the end of camp, I convince myself that I will go home, take another class, attend a conversation group, and keep practicing French so that next year I’ll speak fluently. For my more dedicated friends, this actually works. For me, my good intentions often exceed my commitment. But it doesn’t matter, I’ll keep coming back.