[Sponsored content] An interview with Julien Frei, Director of Education at Coucou French Classes
Since courses have recommenced in person at Coucou French Classes in New York City and Los Angeles, many of the teachers have heard “pandemic language learning stories.” They all go the same way: a student started learning a language on their own WITH CDS OR ONLINE, but then gave up after a few months before signing up for classes at Coucou. Why is it harder than we think to stay motivated while learning a new language? I sat down with Julien Frei, the Director of Education at Coucou French Classes, to ask him if he had any tips to share for students starting their language learning journeys.
What do you think is the number one mistake new language learners make?
Staying passive. This may seem obvious, but I think a lot of us believe that by “immersion”—watching a foreign TV show or listening to foreign music—we’ll suddenly pick up new vocabulary words and magically have great accents. The reality is that true immersion means talking to native speakers! If you’re not talking, your learning remains passive. So rather than simply listening to a French song, you should look up the lyrics and sing along. This way your brain will actively consolidate what it’s hearing.
If I actively started memorizing lyrics and singing along to songs, how long would it take to reach fluency?
Students ask me this all the time! Another mistake that I was going to mention is putting a strict timeline on your learning. You’re a language learner all your life, even in your native language. “Fluency” is a slippery concept. You can’t one day say, “Hey, I’m fluent! I’ll just stop practicing.” All languages need nourishment: no matter what your level is, it will diminish if you don’t keep pushing yourself to keep learning.
I love the idea that we’re all lifelong learners, but if you’re not gifted at language learning, isn’t it frustrating to stay stuck at a low level? How can you progress faster?
First of all, I want to say that you should never compare yourself to other language learners. Having a negative, or fixed mindset, about your language abilities is completely counterproductive. There’s a lot of research that shows that students with what are called “growth mindsets”—they know learning requires effort and that they will make mistakes and learn from them—advance much more quickly than students who believe only in innate talent. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes and don’t judge yourself! Overcoming your inner critic is half the battle: you’ll gain self-confidence and get over your fear of practicing with people whom you think speak “better” than you do.
What do you think having confidence in yourself looks like in terms of language learning?
Being confident doesn’t mean not asking for help. It means realizing that you are in control of your language learning journey and that you need to find what works best for you. If your teacher isn’t a good fit for you, don’t criticize yourself. Find someone who works better with your learning style. Also, don’t be afraid to let your teacher know what is working for you and what isn’t. They will be grateful for your input!
You mentioned having a negative mindset. What are some ways to stay positive and make learning more fun?
I like to say to my students, “Learning a language isn’t a chore, it’s an open door.” In high school, some students start to think that they have to write verb conjugations out hundreds of times, that learning French is all about boring rote memorization. But this is far from the truth! We can’t lose sight of the fact that learning a foreign language opens a door to a whole new culture and lifestyle. So if you don’t feel like working on your grammar, check out a foreign news site or do something that will remind you of why you want to have access to a whole new perspective.
The easiest way to make learning more fun is also to find your community. Doing anything alone can be intimidating and tiring. Once you have friends or a supportive network of people who want to face a challenge with you, it’ll be so much easier to stay engaged.
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