I recently completed a Beginner II level course in French at Multilingual Connections here in Chicago. As you may recall, I first started thinking about learning French back when I was on my career break. Then, once I decided to head to West Africa this fall, I was even more excited to learn the language. Unfortunately, at this point, I am probably only qualified to tell you how NOT to learn French:

1. Sign up for an eight week class and only make it to five classes.

When I was signing up for the Beginner II course, my choices were Thursday nights, Friday afternoons or Saturday afternoons. I had my trip to Bulgaria already scheduled, plus weekend trips to Toronto and New York, so that would have been half of the classes missed right there. Friday afternoons weren’t an option because of work, so Thursday nights were my best bet. I would miss one for Bulgaria, but that should have been it.

Instead, I ended up working late the Thursday night before Bulgaria and missing a class and then missing another one a few weeks later when I got sick. Making it to only five of eight total classes was definitely not the way to learn French.

2. Skip the free Conversation Cafes hosted on Monday nights by your language school.

Multilingual has this really great opportunity for French and Spanish students – weekly conversation cafes at the school that are totally free. They are a chance to just practice talking in the language with whomever else shows up. Unfortunately, I was so busy with work and freelance assignments during August and September that I didn’t make it once.

3. Save all of your French homework for the night before class.

Another byproduct of being way too busy, I never managed to find the time to focus on my homework until Wednesday evenings – and even then, it was usually 9:00 p.m. by the time I started. To really learn French, I should have been setting aside at least an hour or two each night to study and do my homework.

4. Go to Bulgaria for a week in the middle of your class, spending the whole week trying to speak a mix of Bulgarian and Russian instead of French.

Just as I was getting into the swing of my classes, I took a week off to go to Bulgaria – where I was doing my best to speak a mix of Russian and Bulgarian instead of French. Even once I returned, I found myself thinking more in Russian than in French and as I tried to put sentences together in French, I just defaulted to Russian when I didn’t know the French word. It probably would’ve been better to not mix up my languages in the middle of the class!

5. Take a class on Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. when you are crazy tired from the week and have trouble keeping your eyes open, much less concentrate on learning French.

This may have been the worst – my Thursday class was at 8:00 p.m. and, while it was right off the Blue Line, it took me an hour to get from Multilingual to my home. That meant I ended up staying late at work on Thursdays before class (working instead of studying) and not getting home until nearly 11:00 after class. As engaged as I tried to be in class, I was often yawning and bleary-eyed, sometimes struggling to even keep my eyes open. My concentration level was low at best – definitely not the ideal conditions for trying to learn a foreign language!

All in all, I definitely let myself down when it came to trying to learn French. My instructor at Multilingual, Alison, was awesome and made class fun and interesting. The class was just the right size, with just three or four of us there each week. I would love to do it again if the timing just worked out better. In the meantime, I’m still going to do what I can to learn some French before I take off for Mali and Burkina Faso at the end of November.

Disclaimer: my French Beginner II class was provided by Multilingual on a complimentary basis, but my opinions and my inability to speak French are my own.

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