My Week in French—Here’s What I Learned

June 03, 2024   Learning French


If you’re a loyal reader of our blog and La Gazette, you know that we’re always recommending new shows, movies, podcasts, books, and any other content that gets you to practice your French in context and outside of the classroom. There’s really no better way to put your practical language skills to use and engage with French culture! 

As a French learner myself, I decided to put this theory to the test by spending an entire week immersed in French content. Everything I watched, read, or listened to was entirely in French. Read on for my experience and what my biggest takeaways were. 

By Alaina Schwartz

 

THE MISSION

Alaina in France

Having lived, worked and studied in France, and now working at Coucou, most of my days are spent surrounded by the French language. Language practice has always been built into my schedule, but recently I’ve found that I’m lacking a bit in the cultural department, specifically when it comes to the content I consume outside of work. So, I set out to spend what I’ve dubbed a “week in French,” as a way to challenge myself to seek out more French content outside of a work and school environment, and to try a new kind of immersion. 

 

THE PLAN

HQ of the Le Monde newspaper inParis

I knew I would have to change a few aspects of my routine, but it wasn’t until I actually got started that I realized just how much content I consume in a day, and how much time I’d have to account for. Thankfully, coffee is universal, but I would have to give some of my other rituals a real French makeover. The New York Times got dropped for Le Monde and Wordle for Le Mot, and the soundtrack of my 45-minute commute became a scattered selection of French music of all genres and decades–a signature of my listening habits–with an occasional podcast episode thrown in. 

To keep things interesting, I had a checklist of activities I wanted to accomplish by the end of the week. I was able to get every single one of them done, and even roped in my roommate, Amanda, who speaks no French at all. 

  • See a film in theaters
  • Watch a classic and a contemporary film
  • Watch a series
  • Make a French dish
  • Read a book in French

 

WHAT I WATCHED

Picture of a movie theatre programmation

On top of rent and electricity, my roommate and I split the bill for tons of movie rentals, so getting her to watch some movies with me throughout the week was easy, and we became huge fans of Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais in the process. We watched:

  • Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (2019), Céline Sciamma, available on Hulu

This was my first film of the week. Despite it being a rewatch, Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel’s performances brought me to tears (again). 

  • Orphée (1950), Jean Cocteau, watch HERE

A favorite from my New Wave film class in college. Special effects at their finest!

  • Anatomy of a Fall (2023), Justine Triet, available on Hulu

Met up with Amanda at the Angelika for a post-work screening. Spent the entire commute home dissecting each and every moment. Five stars! 

  • La Belle et la Bête (1946), Jean Cocteau, watch HERE

A classic French film that I had never seen before. The whimsical set and special effects brought Beast’s entire castle to life. 

  • Les Parents Terribles (1948), Jean Cocteau, rent HERE

A cautionary tale about an overbearing mother and her lovestruck son. Questionable family dynamics and drama that rival housewives and Kardashians. 

  • Peau d’âne (1970), Jacques Demy, watch HERE

My coworker Melissa’s childhood favorite. Having never seen it before, I was still taken by a certain nostalgia while watching the musical fantasy. If you love The Princess Bride, give this one a try!

On a train ride from Boston to NYC, I decided to take advantage of the free WiFi for some on-the-go French videos with 6pm in Paris. The content is great for learning French as it’s spoken today, and I fell in love with the hosts’ cheeky, playful sense of humor. I also started the series Mixte on Prime, a period drama set in a high school during its first year of co-education, 1963. Tragically, I didn’t realize it wasn’t renewed for a second season until after I’d already become way too invested in the story.

 

WHAT I READ

The book "Clara lit Proust"

This immersion challenge was the perfect opportunity to dust off one of the French books in my collection that I’d been waiting for just the right moment (i.e., waiting for the motivation) to read. During one of the first sunny days of the season, I brought my copy of Stéphane Carlier’s Clara lit Proust out to my fire escape to read for a bit in the sun. This was one of my favorite moments of the week, and one I wouldn’t have had otherwise. 

I had a lot of fun reading a variety of articles in Le Monde, and it’s one of the habits I still keep up with. Here are some of the articles I read:

  • Paris 2024 Summer Olympics and their social impact, read HERE
  • Impending TikTok ban in the US, read HERE
  • Anatomy of a Fall wins an Oscar, read HERE
  • The color red throughout fashion history, read HERE

I saved one of the most difficult activities for the end of the week: following Pierre’s gougères recipe in La Gazette (English translation here). My cooking skills definitely leave something to be desired, and choux pastry is notoriously difficult to make, but I was determined. I spent the whole evening in my kitchen, playing French music and sipping on wine, and ended up with some very ugly, but very delicious gougères. Success!

 

WHAT I LISTENED TO

Singer Angèle performingat the Festival_des_Vieilles_Charrues in 2018

Music was definitely the easiest thing to integrate into my daily routine, especially on my commute. Here are some of the artists who joined me for the ride: 

  • Angèle, which goes without saying. I loved her latest album, Nonante-cinq, but I’m still partial to Brol, especially “Jalousie” and “Balance ton quoi.” 
  • Aya Nakamura, who is rumored to represent France through song at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. She was definitely my favorite discovery from the week, her song “Pookie” is the best! 
  • Madelline, who’s actually from Connecticut and now based in Montreal. You can listen to her single “dopamine” in English and in French

My podcast of the week was “Mes quatorze ans,” a podcast series Journal Intime. The host, Lucie, takes us on a journey to the early aughts by way of entries from her middle school diary. Hilariously relatable, young Lucie’s emotional highs and lows, friendships, and romances are an authentic and refreshing reminder of girlhood. 

 

MY TAKEAWAYS 

  • Learning doesn’t have to be work. At least, not always. Grammar and vocabulary are crucial parts of learning French, but it’s not everything. Authentically engaging with the language through music, movies and even a video game made a bigger impact on my learning than I expected. I was a little intimidated at the beginning of the week, but by the end, I realized it never felt like work, and it forced me to shake up my routine and plan new, fun activities… though I may select an easier recipe for my next go around!
  • You know more than you think you do… but not everything. When I turned on my first film of the week, I realized that I’d only ever watched French content with French or English subtitles. Why? I simply never thought to go without them, or that I could. So, as an extra challenge, I turned them off and just listened. I didn’t catch every single word, and maybe I missed a few phrases, but that didn’t stop me from following the plot and enjoying the movie. I was surprised at how much I understood, and was able to accept what I didn’t. All of this to say, whatever your level, always push yourself to do more–you might just surprise yourself! 
  • Pay attention! Listening and reading comprehension require a certain level of focus, even in your native language. How many times have you been watching a show, only to rewind the last minute because you spent it scrolling through Instagram and missed the big twist? Since French isn’t my native language, I really had to concentrate on what I was watching, reading, and listening to. This meant no texting while listening to my podcast, and no ordering Thai food while Catherine Deneuve was talking. It was a nice reminder to give whatever I’m watching my full attention, you get a lot more out of it that way! 

 

Category: Learning French
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