submitted by Meghan Herrick – FAC Intern, Spring 2020
As a passionate language learner, I have always believed the most effective form of language acquisition is through immersion. Although it may seem daunting at first many people come out of language immersion feeling confident in their language abilities. I am lucky to have had not only one but two French immersion experiences and in two very different places. In addition, I also spent two semesters in Costa Rica and was an exchange student in Germany for some time in high school so I have had a lot of experience with study abroad and language immersion.
My first immersion took place at the Université Sainte Anne in a small town in southern Nova Scotia. I’ll admit before I went I had no idea why the program was in Nova Scotia because I didn’t know French was spoken there. I had heard of the program through my professor who assured me that other students had done the program and advanced their French skills as a result. I applied for the summer program excited to travel and experience a new place for 5 weeks. It became more real to me that this would be full immersion when I received my acceptance letter which stated the rules of the program. I had just begun my journey to learning French and I could not communicate past a basic level so when I saw, “Students are not permitted to speak, read, write, or listen to any language other than French. There will be three warnings and then students will be asked to leave the program.” All I am thinking is, “How is this going to work??” but I pushed my nerves away.
The French-only portion of the program begins on the second day when everyone signs a contract stating they will abide by the rules. The first day consisted of getting settled into our rooms, getting to know people (in English), and touring the campus. The minimum age for this program was 19 so I was put in a dorm with students my age. There was separate housing and smaller apartment like complexes for older students and adults who wanted more space for themselves. I would say 95% of the program was Canadian nationals which surprised me until I learned the government funds French immersion programs for all Canadian students, which I think is great! My roommate was also a French major but had studied French for most of her life so she was really helpful throughout the program. The next day was mostly testing our knowledge to see what level we would best fit into. The test is 4 separate parts and lasts a few hours but you’re moving from place to place in between each one so it’s not so bad. I tested into the very first level basic 1 which was expected. In the evening we had the opening ceremonies where the staff introduced themselves and we officially signed our French-only contracts. I remember this exact moment because after I signed, I looked at my new group of friends who I’d had known for less than 48 hours and just laughed while throwing some French words out here and there. We were a mix of beginner to advanced with the majority being beginner. We were given our class schedules later that evening and had an official welcoming party at the campus discothèque.
When I first questioned how we were going to be motivated to be speaking French 24/7 I didn’t realize how many activities they would have for us. Each day we had breakfast between 7 and 8:30 with class starting at 8:30. Class was 3 ½ hours everyday but it was beyond entertaining. The professors had very creative and engaging lessons and activities that made it go by quickly. In the middle of the class there was a 30-minute break where we attended “La session d’information” or information session. This is where we would find out about the events for the week and get to watch some comedic acting. Each day there were multiple activities from rec games to art to field trips. At the end of the week on Friday and Saturday night there were themed events that took place. Some of these included Christmas, Halloween, Cajun, and western night. We were told to bring some extra costumes, and décor for possible events like this but if someone didn’t there was a thrift store right next to campus. The information session reminded us of these events throughout the week so we were prepared, but it also gives a nice break from class. After class was lunch and rest or homework. Some students also took this time to go to the gym or take a walk to the beach. I forgot to mention the campus is right on the beach, and it’s so beautiful! In the afternoon there were specific clubs we had signed up for at the beginning of the program which ran after our rest period every day for 2 hours. There were so many options, but in the end, I signed up for the dance club. We practiced choreography for 5 dances for a big show at the end of the program. It was in the dance club and activities that I got a lot of speaking practice which was very helpful for me. After club meetings was a short rest then dinner. The food was traditional food from not only Nova Scotia but francophone countries around the world. The chefs made sure to give us as many different dishes as possible and this was really a good part of the experience. After dinner we would attend the evening activity and then go to bed.
An important part of my immersion was learning that Nova Scotia has a francophone community and has a
history of French settlement by people known as the Acadians who have endured a lot throughout history. It was such a great experience to be able to not only learn French in such an immersive environment but to learn about a
francophone community I wasn’t aware of before. The last day was bittersweet and the dance club got to perform for everyone which was comedic. We ended with a burning (literally) of the contracts and a final evening celebration which was not limited to French but by then everyone was continuing to speak French anyway!
Stay tuned in for part 2 of my immersion experience!