Parlez vous français? -You'd better start RIGHT NOW!

The first minutes of the French course I started at one of the universities was the beginning of a 3-hour shock therapy. I expected a nice lady teacher with a bunch of handouts, speaking v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y, explain (in EN preferably) how to pronounce the phrases to be used in certain situations. The instructor (who arrived fashionably late) immediately set us to work on sheets of print-outs she distributed, speaking French all the time. Everyone else in the 20-student class seemed to catch up quickly (it turned out that all but 3 students have French language background) but it took me a while to understand that she wants us to read out familiar words in magazine covers she distributed. Thank God for common Latin roots!

Next we were to work in pairs asking questions about each other and then present each other to the class. I know NO word of French - how was I supposed to do that?!?!?! We were not allowed to use extra-material in class, no books, no iphone applications, and speak no other language than French. Luckily, my partner in pair was no other than a Sudanese-born Kitchener, ON-resident with 17 months of French life under his belt and having taken pity on my non-existent French, translated some of my questions. And guess who gets to go first and present my partner in front of the class? Oui, moi! A few awfully-sounding phrases that were supposed to remind French somehow were passable for the first time I had ever "spoke" French, but we then moved to asking questions. THEY were asking ME questions IN FRENCH! All 18 students were beyond excited to show off their knowledge of French and I was showered with questions. As Je ne parle pas français-ing was not taken for an answer, I had to do lots of "me talk pretty". And as it was expected, the last person to present got no questions as everyone was out of steam and out of French words they knew....

The make-up of the class is extremely interesting: a few American and Canadian girls who au pair in French families; a few spouses of working partners who (like myself) are taking French for self-improvement and a few who (unlike myself) are killing time; a few students-to-be with a French prerequisite; a flock of international husbands exotiques married to la mademoiselle francaise; and finally, a couple of gals who came to France to hang out and see where life will take them. Geographically, the whole world is represented: Asia, Middle East, Europe, North America, Russia, and even Belarus!

100%-immersion definitely tested (if not pushed me out of) my comfort zone with all the knowledge I've accumulated in life being of no use here! Is the method based on the precept that if I'm being asked to speak French enough times, at some point I'll have a linguistic burning bush moment when I'd realize how French words constitute a sentence and I'll be happily on way to order a morning cafe-au-lait and a croissant (which I can actually do quite well already)?! Or is this an intimidation strategy aiming at having students take the class seriously?

In any case, I was very much challenged and therefore, interested. Comprenez-vous?

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