samedi 14 avril 2012

Learning French: Immersion Programme Homestay

I am a mature aged person and like my independence but I strongly believe that the homestay is a key, integral part of any linguistic stay or immersion programme experience.
Homestay in Rouen
No matter how interactive and effective the learning you do prior to commencing your immersion programme, the enormous benefits of the everyday incidental conversation around the dinner table should not be underestimated. Whether it be asking where things go when you are helping putting things away, when you can do your washing or use the bathroom, or discussing the culture. You will be exposed to everyday language that may be different to the textbook language you are familiar with. Listen and observe how the language is used. Look for patterns, idioms. Try to understand the gist of what is being said. Don't let it overwhelm you. Participate and enjoy it. I had studied  French for many years but still did not recall the word for tea towel! 
Rouen homestay family, fellow student and moi
If circumstances do not allow you to do a homestay then you will need to actively maximise your regular contacts with the locals rather than hiding away in your studio, dorm or hotel room. Spending every afternoon in a French museum, café or supermarket will help improve your language but it will do so in a  different and possibly more limited way. Varying your activities will increase the breadth of exposure to the language but you also need to consider the depth of interactions as well.
My Rouen bedroom
When choosing a language school and deciding to do a homestay, ensure that there is one person who has overall responsibility for homestays, including placements, visits and inspections plus dealing with any concerns. I did a homestay with a school where lots of the administration staff dealt with homestays but there was no one person to whom concerns or questions could be directed. You need to know in advance if you are obligated to stay with the family if either you or they decide it is not working out. At the Alliance française de Rouen, there is a kind of ‘no blame/fault’ option for both the family and the student. If things are not working out, either party may choose to cease the arrangement. The Alliance will assist, in the rare occasion of a change being required, with alternative accommodation. I am aware of one eighteen year old who was terrified of large dogs. She didn’t realise in advance that her family had a large dog. Neither she nor the family wanted her to move as they got along very well but she was too scared to go out into the backyard. It was preferable that she be placed in another situation where she would feel totally comfortable.
Rouen homestay family and moi
If you decide on doing a homestay, I recommend being specific about any preconceived ideas that you are expecting from the homestay. How important is cleanliness, fun and laughter, outings, private facilities etc to you? These things are not necessarily mutually exclusive but what is one person's ideal homestay is not necessarily the same as another person's. Make no assumptions. I incorrectly assumed with my first homestay that there would be more than one member in the host family. I found myself in an accommodation which was more like a boarding house with 3 other students. Lovely bedroom and bathroom but we were not encouraged to be in the kitchen apart from meal times. No other communal area was available to us inside. The lady went straight to her bedroom after clearing the kitchen so we did not get to chat. The next time I asked for a 'traditional' family explaining that I wanted more exposure to people speaking French between themselves as well as directly to me. I was allocated a retired couple and grandmother whom I adored. However, two of my friends who also did homestays at the same time stayed with women who were divorced or widowed. They thoroughly enjoyed it and these ladies organised visits with my two friends. There is no perfect foolproof formula. A family with parents and some children may allow the possibility to observe more interactions with people coming and going but it may be that with just one person in the family that there will be more chance and focus on your interaction. 
Rouen homestay garden
I also suggest checking the school's homestay placement policy for students. How many students are placed within the family? Do they place more than one student with the same native language in the same family? For some students meals are a priority. They want beautifully prepared meals with all the trimmings. Others want to be near the town centre so they can go out at night, others want the countryside. Some families may have fancy, beautiful homes but are very strict about things such as meal times. 
Prawns al fresco
Think carefully about what is important to you and what you are prepared to compromise on. It probably will not be possible to have a 100% match but schools will aim for the best possible. Usually the greater the period of  advanced warning you can give, the better you chances of a match. The important thing is to communicate as clearly and precisely as possible what you would prefer when requesting a homestay through a language school.
Homestay families get together for meal in Noumea, New Caledonia
I have done homestays in Toulouse, Noumea and 3 in Rouen. Each of these have been coordinated by the language school where I have been studying. To get the most out of the wonderful opportunity that a homestay presents, communicate as much as possible, at every occasion with the family and actively involve yourself in family life. Be open to new experiences that extend beyond the realm of learning the language and remain positive and I am confident that you will benefit and enjoy your homestays as much as I have.

4 commentaires:

  1. I found the Alliance Française prohibitive when it came to language learning where cost was concerned. It was only affordable to businesses. My husband had lessons with them through work but it wasn't possible to pay for enough lessons to have a decent impact on language improvement. I paid 35€ for patisserie classes and had three hours of tuition instead of one from A.F for 50€, and learned far more french.

    1. Wow 50€ for one hour does sound a lot unless it is a private lesson. AF de Rouen charge 150€ for 15 hours but it is progressively cheaper if you do more than 3 weeks. The Alliances do vary their prices from location to location so  if cost is a factor it is worthwhile checking around online. Visitors will also need to take into account the differing living costs too from place to place. Of course if you are lucky enough to live in France then the situation differs. I agree strongly with you that there are lots of great opportunities for learning French outside of the classroom. Patisserie classes sound fantastic. I need to add them to my list to try. Did you do that in Rouen??  I am going to try the free cooking classes in the markets in Paris.

  2. Salut!

    I love your blog, it is really informative. Is there any chance you could tell me though what way has been the best for you to learn french? If you had 3 months and little money, what would you advise.

    Kind regards

    1. Salut Alexandra.
      Thanks for your kind words.

      There is no doubt that staying with a family in France has been the best most effective way to improve my French. The family you get and your level of commitment to getting the most out of it is paramount. I am not sure whether you are able to travel to France or are looking for ideas to do in your home country.

      Depending on your level of French then I would suggest that you do this in conjunction with classes unless you are at a very advanced level. Other options can include volunteering in France - but I fear that you would probably end up with English speakers. I am not sure of your age group. Au pairing may be an option but again you would need to find out if you will be speaking English or French in the home. To benefit from being in France you need to be commited to trying to speak French 100% of the time. Have you had a look also on sites seeking youth exchanges ? I just realised that I don't think that I have published a post I wrote more than a year ago regarding making the most of an immersion stay. Let me know if you need more details and we can exchange emails or talk about it on Skype or by phone.


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