Europe: A Reality Check

This post goes out to anyone who’s dreaming of visiting Europe.

Ever since I came back from my semester abroad, I’ve noticed that there is some sort of dreamy, romantic view on France and Europe in general. My friends or family, aft10446558_10205005134316423_3934128377867277454_ner hearing I’ve been, always say things like “Wow! Europe must have been incredible!” or “I’m so jealous!” I say similar things to people I know who have traveled around multiple states because that’s something I’ve never done, but they always respond “Yeah, but you’ve been to Europe” like it’s not comparable. I find this pretty interesting since America is such a vast and diverse country yet its citizens don’t see that. I’ve experienced the same thing when I say I’ve been to Canada. What is it about Europe in particular that we as outsiders put it on such a pedestal?

Part of it is distance. It’s so far that it makes it difficult to impossible for many to actually travel there. This unattainability means that most people only know Europe through movies and TV. In every movie or television show, Europe and Europeans are always depicted as sexy and mysterious. These depictions become reality to those unable to visit the continent. We see the smooth French prince in Monte Carlo or the sophistilatestcated Englishman in about every movie and believe that that’s what everyone is like.

I’m not going to lie. I bought into this myth as well. Yes, of course I wanted to go to France to be surrounded by the language, interact with native speakers, and learn how the language is used in real life, but I was also just seduced by the image of France that I saw in movies like Paris, Je t’aime and even an animated movie Ratatouille made me believe that French food is the standard by which to compare all other food. These images became my reality when it came to France, its culture, and its people.

So talk about a reality check when I got to France/Europe and realized it’s just a place like any other. Yes, it’s gorgeous and has so much history, but all places do. It was a little like the Mona Lisa. You hear about how incredible a work of art it is, and then you go see that it’s just a small painting of a smiling lady. Nothing grand or life changing about it.

The sexy, mysterious European men everyone talks about are really just guys. Some of them are creepy European men who think it’s ok to harass you because you speak English. The incredible food is in credible – if you can afford. I, a college student who works at a fast food restaurant, could not.

Now, I don’t want to discourage anyone from travelling or studying abroad. My experience was absolutely incredible and life-changing. I made awesome friends from all around the world and visited places most people only read about. But there are unpleasant realities. Europe – or anywhere else in the world – is not some magical land where the bad things disappear. They have their own issues they deal with like we do in the U.S.

tl;dr Europe is great, but it’s not perfect.

Chontelle

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Youtubeurs/Youtubeuses as a Learning Tool

Anyone who has learned or attempted to learn a new language knows that the hardest part is learning to speak and to listen fluently as opposed to reading and writing. My own personal experience and from what I’ve heard from many friends has shown me that language instruction in schools focuses heavily on reading, writing, and grammar. Reading and writing are two skills essential in the classroom, as traditional tests are taken with paper and pen; however, in practical use, speaking and listening are just as – if not more – important than reading and writing.

My high school French teacher did his best to incorporate speaking and listening into the classroom. Even beyond the practice CDs that came with our textbook, he would play us music or interviews so that we could listen closely and fill in the blank spaces on transcripts of each example. Using authentic pieces of contemporary French culture is so valuable in the classroom in order to keep learning relevant to the students’ lives and their interests as well as understanding real, everyday language use compared to the formal, academic language taught in the classroom.

When I prepared myself to go to France for a semester, I decided to try to incorporate as much French into my everyday life as I could. I tried to think of how I could practice my listening in a way that was easy, accessible, and enjoyable. I knew that I would not willingly listen to French news every day without completely tuning it out after the first minute. I also wanted something that was more casual and closer to how the people I would encounter would speak. They wouldn’t all be newscasters. I realized that a big chunk of my spare time at that point was spent watching Youtube and vloggers. It dawned on me to incorporate French “youtubeurs/youtubeuses” into that routine. One of my favorites was a comedy and tech vlogger called Cyprien.

*Warning: slight nudity around 4:50

In this particular video, Cyprien talks about his visit in New York, the differences between America and Europe, and the struggles of traveling on your own. This style of video is great for high school aged students or any young adults since it’s funny and relatable. Cyprien talks directly to the camera as if telling a story to a friend while he mixes little sketches where he acts out his stories and highlights certain jokes. My personal favorite part is the beginning when he talks about he struggles of going on vacation without your parents and their wallets. As a broke college student: #relatable.  If you’re a teacher trying to get your students to listen to more French on a daily basis, YouTube personalities like Cyprien are great because most kids have phones or computers they can use to watch anytime, so it’s extremely accessible. YouTubers are already really popular among teenagers so it’s a great way to sneak in learning into their current interests. And though the comment section isn’t always a great place, it provides viewers an opportunity of critical engagement where they can express their thoughts, making them more invested in continuing to watch the videos. You could even create an activity of writing comments in French. Cyprien’s videos, in comparison to my favorite French beauty vlogger EnjoyPhoenix, are pretty gender neutral so it’s great if you’re trying to reach a wide audience like in a classroom.

I should mention, however, that due to the speed of their speech, French vlogging videos are best for intermediate to advanced students. You can turn on the automatic captions that YouTube provides, but they’re extremely unreliable and inaccurate, often getting the translation completely wrong. Beginning students can attempt to watch and catch familiar words as practice as well, but they probably won’t fully comprehend what’s going on — especially when it comes to jokes, though comedy is a great way to measure comprehension. If you laugh, you know you understood the joke. Also, not all of Cyprien’s videos are necessarily appropriate to show in a classroom, so teacher discretion is advised!

Well, I hope this inspires you or your students to incorporate more French into your life!

Bonne chance,

Chontelle

Bienvenue! Welcome!

Hello, dear readers and welcome to my blog!
First of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Chontelle, and I am currently a senior in college studying French on the way to becoming a high school French teacher, hence the fancy French title of the blog. You should know that languages in general fascinate me – maybe because I grew up in a Filipino household in California constantly surrounded by two languages.

If I’m going to be completely honest, I’m not entirely sure what direction this blog is going to go. Most likely I will focus on the fairly vague themes of language and education. Obviously, these two things often go hand in hand. Language gives us the tools to educate and to be educated so that we can share with each other our ideas and thoughts and to create new knowledge. But language can also be a barrier in education when the teacher and the student do not share the same language background. I will explore different techniques and tips for learning and teaching a foreign language. Can you really learn a language from an app? Maybe I’ll do a post teaching some French words or sharing some weird stories from my time abroad. Who knows.

No doubt my own educational journey will be the center of more than one post as what is more entertaining than an aspiring educator struggling with the impending doom of the CSET? (For those of you outside of California, the CSET is a very scary subject competency test for future teachers).

So, welcome to this new adventure of mine!

À bientôt! See you soon!