Learning a second language is different for many students. For some, English is not the mode of communication they’re most comfortable with, and others are used to speaking a second language at home while English comes more naturally for them. Some have no encounters with languages other than English, and the idea of communicating in a completely new way is something, literally, foreign to them.
Personally, in some ways, I have collected languages over the years. My mom is from Taiwan, so I grew up speaking Mandarin with some of my family and studying at Chinese school every weekend. Having grown up in California, I took Spanish classes starting in middle school and up to the AP level. Enamoured by a trip I took to Europe in high school, I quickly became interested in French culture, art, fashion and food; before heading to college I became eager to learn more about it and to possibly visit again in the future. I developed a dream of studying abroad in Paris or another city in a “pays francophone”– a French-speaking country.
These dreams, somewhat easily, became a reality at Cal. With the bit of extra room in my schedule that I do have, I was able to completely start from scratch and begin taking French courses starting in my first semester. I am currently enrolled in French 4. Through my journey of being in French class every single day for the past 3 and a half semesters, I have experienced a supportive and tight-knit community, seen my abilities progress, and entered a new world of French language and culture in the greater context of the university.
Most language courses at UC Berkeley are worth 5 units of credit: they meet every single day, and work through, with detail, the intricate grammar structures, endless vocabulary, the development of conversational skills, and dive as deeply as possible into the culture of the language which is being studied. From my very first day in French 1, when I have passed the threshold of the French classroom, I have exclusively been spoken to and have spoken in French. Despite the wide variety of majors and interests represented in these courses, people enter with a common goal, into a completely immersive space full of communication and history.
One of the biggest blessings of participating in these classes has been the small class sizes. No French class I’ve been in has had over 15 students. In these classes, I’ve built a community, a bond, and a friendship with each of my classmates. We have taken trips to Bampfa to examine exhibits featuring French artists, we have watched French films together, we’ve discussed poetry– at times I see my classmates elsewhere on campus and am taken aback because I’d never heard them speak in English. We forge a bond unlike other bonds found between Berkeley classmates: it’s truly a unique experience.
In terms of my next steps, I’m excited to be planning to apply to participate in a study abroad program, likely for the Fall semester of my Senior Year. Berkeley offers a number of study abroad options, especially for those students who have completed two years of University-level French, in a variety of countries and subjects. I’m very excited for what my future holds, but for now, I am treasuring my daily influx of French language and culture, this sense of community, and bit of escape from the Berkeley hustle and bustle. It is truly refreshing to dedicate this time to the process of learning something new.