My experience with language learning anxiety and becoming bilingual
In my first ever podcast, I talk about my experience with language learning anxiety and how I became bilingual.
If you prefer to read instead of listen, check out the blog post below for all of the details and tips on overcoming language learning anxiety and my journey on becoming bilingual.
Did you know that my first language is not French? I grew up in a small English town in Ontario, where the only French spoken was from the teachers at school. Although my first language isn’t French, I am happy that this how I became bilingual because I can relate to a lot of parents and participants who are learning in my classes.
Plus, my experience with French learning has helped guide my classes as I can better explain the quirky parts of the French language that aren’t always easily explained by those who haven’t learned it for themselves. I teach all of my tricks and tips that I used myself to become bilingual and learn French.
A little background story...
I started my French language learning journey at the age of 5 as a student in a French immersion school. Once in high school, one of my teachers, Mr. Ulysse, asked the class to compete in a University of Ottawa contest as a homework project. I had to make a video to talk about bilingualism, its effects in Canada, and the benefits of French Immersion. I won 3rd place in the contest, which landed me a scholarship to the University of Ottawa.
In university, I went from being a French immersion student to fully bilingual.
Some of the requirements to accepting the scholarship (and maintaining it) was that half of my courses had to be in French and I had to uphold an 85% average. This meant courses like philosophy and psychology were in French and taught by a French professor. When I got to my first class, I didn’t understand a word!!
At my next class, I started writing phonetically everything that the professor was saying, even though I didn’t really know what he was actually talking about. I would later read aloud my notes until I was able to understand what he was teaching and comprehend the lesson. I had to do this for about 2 weeks before I could grasp what he was teaching during the class. This course was a very French environment, with really fast speaking French!
How I learned to speak French naturally is another story. I was nervous speaking French aloud, as I didn’t want to make mistakes, but I started challenging myself to just speak it anyways. Simply put, anyone who is going to judge you for trying to speak a second language, isn’t a very nice person, so who cares what they think?
“If you don’t make mistakes, you are really holding yourself back from your ability to learn.”
I started putting my hand up in class, and kept putting myself in that uncomfortable position, until it eventually became normal to be speaking French. This lead me to start ordering food in French too for extra practice. I went from concentrating on my worries (of mispronouncing) to concentrating on the French language.
For more language practice, I signed up for a language learning meet up. I was partnered with a woman who was trying to learn English, while she taught me how to speak French. We were both eager to learn and met weekly.
I also started watching French reality tv. I did this, as with reality tv, there are quick conversations in unpredictable patterns and it trained my brain to learn to speak faster, and to follow the conversations in a more natural way.
In order to maintain my average requirements, I had to be fully bilingual. Somewhere along the way after a full year of nothing but French tv, weekly language meet ups, texting in French, ordering food in French and raising my hand in class, I became bilingual. I had gotten over my fear of making mistakes and just started speaking French.
Then I knew I wanted to teach and help others learn French, and so I applied for teachers college. I had a great experience at teachers college and this is where I met my husband (who was in one of my classes but on the English side of things), but that’s a story for another time! While in teachers college, I took a course that taught me how to neutrally speak in French. I strived for the neutral accent so I could better teach the language. And now when people wonder where I learned French, I say it’s my “Madame Amy accent”!
I had a new love of language learning and wanted to help others as I had taught myself to do. I was hired as a grade 3 French teacher in a school where the staff was pretty much all Francophone. It took me a while to feel confident in my own abilities as a French teacher as it is my second language, but it was with all of my activity planning that I started to gain more confidence. I went in teaching a language I hadn’t grown up speaking, spoke French all day, and my students had no idea that I could speak English too!
How does my story help you?
I understand how much of a barrier the need for perfection can be and the fear of making mistakes. But the fact that we don’t let ourselves try until we know the correct answer, holds us back as adult language learners. This fear and anxiety is something we get with age.
Children are like sponges; they soak everything up. Then they just try! Sometimes it’s complete nonsense when they are learning to talk but they try, and try again until they get the right reaction from us. If we could be like them as learners, and listen to something and just try, we would learn languages so much more quickly.
So, my advice?
Put yourselves in those uncomfortable situations.
Speak the language you are hoping to learn and force yourself to become uncomfortable so that it becomes normal and is no longer uncomfortable anymore.
Take it slow and little pieces at a time.
Learn a few key words, and every time you are in that situation or environment, use the vocabulary! It can be using a few words while cooking, or out at the library or coffee shop, or while you play with your child.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
Push past the desire for perfection and focus on the language. Mistakes are ok!
At 123 Petits Pas, we create an environment where you feel comfortable to try and to make mistakes because I know language learning anxiety is a common struggle. I feel that it is better to introduce the language and make mistakes, than to not introduce the language at all. What’s the worse that could happen? Your child might eventually realize your mistake, but they will be so happy to teach you the correction. This is a great opportunity to show your child that we are always learning, and that it is in fact ok to make mistakes!
The goal with 123 Petits Pas is to make it available for every family to learn French. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to learn it ASAP. I encourage everyone to do the best that they can and introduce French as soon as you can, and if you need support I am here to help and answer any questions!
Thank you for following this very first podcast! À la prochaine!