Rainy stretches like this bring me back to rainy Rouen. I lived in this medium sized French city in Normandy for eight months of my roughly a year in that country, from which I returned just over two years ago. A cloudy day can bring anyone down, but that notoriously overcast Norman sky nearly depressed me that winter, as I often went a whole week or longer without as much as glimpsing the sun.
This was particularly hard in the dead of winter when my first class, teaching a class of tired eighth graders, started before sunrise. I ran out of my tiny apartment in the center of the city to catch a 35 minute bus to the little, old manufacturing suburb, or “banlieu”, of Elbeuf, where unemployment stood at 28%, 35% in some neighborhoods.
Sun deprivation in the north aside, I really enjoyed my time in France, both in Normandy and later on in the French Alps, where I worked my second job before I learned that I could not renew my visa. I will soon blog about my trip much greater depth on Bishop’s Travels (I’ll be sure to repost it here). During that year I made great, life long friends, I got my first experience teaching, I worked for a foreign architecture firm, and I solidified my fluency in French.
I am a huge believer in the benefits of learning a foreign language. One of my greatest childhood idols, Paul Robeson, spoke over a dozen fluently, so I figured I have no excuse to not eventually master at least four. Not only does being actively bilingual make our brains sharper for longer, according to this New York Times article, but it opens doors for us. I decided to go to France in the midst of the financial crisis that made working in my field in America all but impossible for the majority of young architects who were not lucky enough to keep their jobs through the turmoil. Speaking French allowed me not only to reside in a country where I always wanted to live, but to continue to get experience in my field in a place where pastures were greener at the time.
Most importantly, during my time in France, I was able to gain understanding of another culture that one can only gain through immersion and speaking the local language. This is the type of understanding that one gains through grocery shopping, car pooling with strangers, sleeping over friends’ houses, and having a regular hang-out spot – not from hotels, boat rides, and famous landmarks.
That brings me to Duolingo! If there’s one thing you know about Rosetta Stone, it’s that it’s expensive. Duolingo is free and uses the same methods. I am now using it to bring my written and spoken Spanish up to a higher level, which is possible as Duolingo covers even the most complex tenses. With Duolingo’s beautiful interface and compatibility with both Android and Apple smartphones and tablets, you really can learn during your free time, even with a busy schedule. I learned French mainly through conversation, writing, reading, and listening to music on my own time while living in the US – and any learning from Duolingo should be similarly supplemented through other means for best results. Luckily for us, with the internet there’s never a lack of materials to help you learn a language better. Duolingo is a great place to start.
Look for my full post about living in France coming soon on Bishop’s Travels (to be reposted here), one of my favorite blogs anywhere. In the mean time, I’ll leave you with the smooth sounds of Hocus Pocus, my favorite French hip hop group. Even if you don’t understand, you’ll appreciate this one.