12 September, 2006

Biology and French

I had my first real French class today. I can only take one bio course this semester, because all of the other bio classes being offered are either terminally uninteresting, conflict with another class, or require detailed knowledge of the immune system, which I do not posess. The class is on the molecular basis of genetic expression, and it sounded boring when I first read the description, but there was a meeting for all third-year biology students in which the professors came and gave descriptions of their classes, and I liked the guy who gave the description and it sounded a lot more interesting than it had on paper, so I decided to give it a try (this was even before I knew that it was the only bio class in the ENTIRE UNIVERSITY that I could take).

It's set up about like a class in the US- there's a big lecture once or a couple times a week, and then smaller discussion sections on top of that. The students who are taking the whole year 3 bio sequence also have a lab. However, the French university system is hardcore and the lab meets once a week for ten hours (Yeah. Ten hours straight. Every Monday), so I'm not going to be participating in that little bit of fun.

I must say, being in France is lots of fun. My French is improving so fast that I actually think I have a chance of speaking it like a native by the end of the year. It's amazingly awesome being here, because I can just go outside and walk down the street and learn something. In every conversation I have (or eavesdrop on) I learn some new word, or some new way of expressing some emotion, or some new French cultural custom, and it's really one of the most interesting things I've ever done in my life.

At the beginning of the bio class this morning I was a little lost. It wasn't really that I didn't understand what the professor was saying, because I did (which was really cool and a little surprising), but I didn't quite understand how to write it all down and pick out what was important and what wasn't. About halfway through the lecture, though, something clicked and I started being able to take notes almost as well as I can in English. I think that same thing happens at the beginning of every class I take, whether it's in English or French, which makes me feel wonderful because it means that I really do speak French.

Yesterday I had my monthly meeting with the EAP French teacher. Each of us is supposed to meet with her once a month for forty-five minutes to discuss problems we have with French and just to get some one-on-one attention. I got really lucky in that I like her and she likes me and we generally get along quite well. The first day in class everyone went around and said how long they'd been studying French, and mostly people had been studying it in college and some in high school, and then we got to me and I said I'd been studying French for nine years, and the teacher asked if I were bilingual (I said no, not really), and since then she's been really scared that she's boring me in class.

I'm actually not bored in class, which is sort of a novel experience for me. It's not that the class is pitched at someone with my level of French, because it's not. There are a lot of people here that have only been studying French for three or so years, so the grammar and pronounciation things she's going over I already know, but what I have to do to improve my French now is to pick up all the little nonsensical things that you can't just make a list of or learn a rule for, and the way to do that is to listen to French people speak and read things in French. The teacher's French, and she gives us magazine and newspaper articles in French to read, so I pick up lots of interesting things in French class. I suppose I don't learn any more French in French class than I do just walking down the street, but I certainly don't learn any less, so I don't feel it's a waste of my time. I think what I'm trying to say is that I don't need a French class but that I don't mind taking one. (Damn. Now that I've put that into words it bugs me a little that I have to take that class when I could be taking bio instead. Perhaps I'll go talk to someone about it? I'll see how the next couple classes go first, I think.)

So in our meeting yesterday we talked about picking up the little things (she's going to give me a list of random words that you don't make a liason with, which is just something you have to memorize) and she came up with all sorts of ways she could make class more interesting for me, which was nice. She says that when she gives grammar exercises she can surreptitiously slip me some harder ones than the rest of the class gets, which will be fun. I also got recommendations for books and magazines to read and supermarkets to go to.

She also told me that yes, I probably was fluent in French. About the middle of last year I stopped translating things I read in French into English in my head, and she says that that's fluency.

All in all, these have been a nice couple days. I'm really starting to settle in now, and I've had enough time to look around and decide that yes, this is a good place to be, and I like it here.


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