Two summers ago, I lived in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec for 5 weeks for the Explore languages program.
A university-credited French immersion program, Explore plunked us right down in the middle of learning true Quebecois French - in a tiny town of no more than 3 500. A town of this size in Quebec has almost no need for English, so even the families who hosted us students barely spoke English.
We signed contracts on the first day, promising we would speak only in French at all times. If you’re caught speaking English, you get an avertissement (a warning), and after three avertissements, you get sent home. It seemed excessive and intimidating at first, but within a week or two, I definitely saw the value of such an intensive method.
French was the only way to communicate, so French we spoke. All the time.At school, at home, at the grocery store, at the ice cream shop, at the bar, on bike trips with friends … when you get to speak it in so many different contexts, and constantly, it can improve really drastically, really quickly. You start to think in French, dream in French, and (harder than it seems), joke in French. When someone didn’t know what a word meant, we wouldn’t give a direct translation to English, we would give a definition in French, forcing us to find other words and practice explaining skills.
I think back on that as the first time I realized just how free I could be in the world. I realized that if I wanted to go somewhere…I could. It seems so simple, but I felt the whole world open up to me, and even though it wasn’t real travelling, I became a dedicated seeker of adventure and new experiences and have hardly slowed down since.
Not to mention that I wouldn’t be able to be holding the job I have now without the French skills I picked up in Trois-Pistoles. We got to learn relevant French - not classroom, textbook French, but that “malade” means “sick” in the both of the same contexts that we use it - meaning both ill, and “that’s really cool”; and that “mal au coeur” doesn’t mean “heartache” like you might expect, but rather, nauseous after a night out drinking.
But above all, the experience gave me the confidence to try, at least, even when I wasn’t totally sure I was right. And that’s a useful skill both in language learning and in life. Be bold, try something out, and even if it’s not exactly right…now you might have a better idea of what is.
I could even go so far as to say that my time in Trois-Pistoles was when I really “caught” my case of wanderlust.