Making Language Part of My Life/ Preparing for a Fullbright

It’s the same advice you’ll find on any language learning blog. Define your goals, ask yourself why you want to learn a language, what you want to use the language for. Nothing that we already don’t know. (Albeit, this advice is great in the sense we sometimes lose sight of our goals mid-stroke). Yet, here I don’t want to talk about that. I’d rather talk strategy.

I’m barreling into the last half of Spring semester for my MFA in Creative Writing. And I’ve suddenly begun to feel that time is starting to pass faster than before. Soon, I will be one year closer to finishing my program. One year closer to having to enter the professional world. One year farther from where I was last year when I started this language project. I want to push pause, and reflect not just on my goals for this next year, but on my strategy for moving forward.

My strategy entails this: buy myself more time; have my cake and eat it too.

For American students (and college graduates), there’s something called the Fullbright scholarship which funds overseas research and study. You can use the Fullbright to go overseas and get a Masters at a foreign university in a field of your choice (often, the countries in question advertise which programs they offer on their individual pages). In short, I plan to apply for and receive a Fullbright to study linguistics or literature in France.  The process for doing this is fairly complicated and not worth going through here; except to say that it’s extremely important to prove to the selection committees how you’ve prepared yourself linguistically.

Cue: language proficiency and study.

I need to take a course in French literature in French next semester to have something on my official transcripts that proves I’ve got what it takes. But my proficiency is not just there yet. Although I’m close.

Last year, I took the OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) in French through ACTFL (American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages) and received an “advanced-mid” score. Through the TCF (Test de Connaissance du Français), which is more like a mock proficiency exam, I’ve received high marks for listening and reading comprehension but poor marks for grammar, scoring around 60%.

Anyways here’s how I plan to get myself there: I’m going to speak and write as much as possible. The reason being is that speaking and writing are very active processes that force you think and reason in the language

-Language Exchanges/Sessions with tutors on italki. You’re way behind the learning curve if you haven’t gotten yourself an account with italki and you’re seriously interested in learning language. The platform connects you with teachers and students of language from all over the world. You can either schedule to take lessons with professional teachers or tutors for anything from five dollars an hour to over $40 an hour, all on Skype. Or you can message other users on the site and set up your own language exchange. I met a great friend from Spain on here, and have been doing a language exchange with him for over a year now.

-Daily journal entries on my own and online (again at italki). Italki has this unique feature where you can write a journal entry and post it for the public to correct. The feedback you receive during this is invaluable. And for me, I think this is the best way to confront your issues with grammar. Post short paragraphs on here everyday, have them corrected, and memorize your mistakes, and you’re well on your way to improving your grammar.

Supplementary Exercises:

Anki-App Flashcard reviews. Forcing yourself to actively recall vocabulary and specific sentence structures is essential to improving. More on this later (a whole concept in and of itself).

-Power through Assimil Perfeccionamiento, and use the same strategy I’ve used for learning English grammar—I’m going to copy sentences from books frequently to study their form. I might even try and re-phrase quite a few passages I read in the original language.

-And finally, of course, I’ll be trying to live as much as possible in French. To include watching this awesome new French series on YouTube originals called Groom.

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