Refusing to speak English while on erasmus

As I mentioned a while back, I decided to stop speaking English for the remainder of my erasmus.  Yesterday evening, I had my last ever erasmus class (well, that was really on Monday, seeing as for yesterday’s class we just went to the Christmas market, but anyway).  Seeing as that marked the end of erasmus (I’ve finished all my exams bar one not very significant one tomorrow –  ahh, nearly forgot it was tomorrow…), I decided to let myself speak English again, starting at about 6pm.

It was interesting.  A few people had almost forgotten I spoke English, and thought it was bizarre to hear me speak it again, once they realised.  I surprised myself by not struggling to remember every word I needed, which happened regularly after being immersed in Spanish for a few months.  It was seventy full days since I quit speaking English.  Granted, I obviously spoke it on certain occasions – Skype calls, having visitors, meeting up with people from my home college, language exchanges, randomly enough bumping into new Irish people and sometimes on occasions where English-speakers I hadn’t told about my silly plan popped up.  So there were about two weeks within that where abstaining from English was largely ignored.  For the rest of it though, was it actually worth it?

Well for starters, I spoke far more French than I would have if I didn’t decide to do this, which for me makes it worthwhile.  I also resorted to other languages more often, and even learned or revised a little bit of Spanish, Irish, German (klar!), Chinese (nǐ hǎo was all I picked up, but it’s a start), Japanese, and possibly some Italian (io non parlo italiano).

Attempting to speak the language, while not resulting in fantastic improvements in my level of French, at least made me less embarrassed about trying to speak it, and most of all made it much easier for me to respond any time a French person magically appeared and said something to me in French.  Previously, when I was used to using English, simply responding to a basic question or greeting was far more challenging, as I wasn’t thinking in French at all, so I’d have to take a moment to register what language was actually being spoken to me, and then my brain would have to switch to that language, and form a response.  By which time the other person would probably have said something like “ah you don’t speak French”, and then said whatever they’d originally said in English.  If you’ve ever tried to speak the local language of a place when it’s not your native one, you’ll know that once this happens, there is almost never any going back.

Which basically made me go down this route in the first place.  This and the fact that, even though I can never seem to lie about the fact that I speak English if someone asks me (despite responding in their language anyway, to sort of hint at the fact that maybe I’d like to continue speaking that language please please please), avoiding speaking English at least made it easier to keep speaking French, even when native speakers of it kept responding to me in English.  As soul-crushing as it was, I at least got to practise speaking it, even if I didn’t get to try and improve my comprehension of it often.

Another benefit was that when erasmus students with really good English realised I was speaking French to Irish people, it probably made them more inclined to speak French to me rather than English.  And they’re often easier to understand than native speakers, because they usually speak more slowly, and get it when you have no idea how to express what you’re trying to say, often even knowing exactly what you’re trying to say even when you don’t have the exact words.  We’re like, telepathic or something, I don’t know.

A major, and very obvious negative aspect of the whole ordeal however, was simply not being able to speak.  I could communicate, obviously, but not as quickly or accurately as I’d have liked, without throwing in a couple of English words now and then.  But that in itself sort of pushes you to improve.  Or at the very least, it makes you more aware of what you need to learn – if you can’t say a certain basic word in French, maybe you should look it up next time you get a chance.

Your personality changes a bit when you speak a different language too.  So I was mainly la Sarah française since the start of October, aside from the odd outburst of Irishness in the form of exclamations like “shite” and “jaysus”.  It’s far more difficult to joke in French too, when you’re not fluent in it, which is a shame, but sometimes attempts at speaking French or weird phrasing end up funny in themselves, so that cancels it out somewhat.

If I was to go back in time, I’d still do the same – it was difficult, but I would have found erasmus more difficult if I’d continued with what I’d done in September and spoken loads of English.  If it was possible, I’d have done my erasmus with no other native English speakers, but that was either not at all possible, or extremely close to impossible, and I didn’t think of going as far as asking the people in charge of my erasmus placement to just send me to any French-speaking area within Europe where they thought there would be the least amount of English speakers, please and thanks, despite that being my priority when making my erasmus choices.  English speakers are cool though, so it’s nice that I did get to know a few of them while here.

Blog Trouble

The main problem I encounter with blogging, apart from writing coherently in English and posting consistently, is that most of my ideas come to me in the latter part of the day.  Or, more accurately, at nighttime.  Right now, I have several ideas floating around, but it’s almost 4am, therefore I’m too tired to write them, and well, should really go to sleep rather than attempting to create new blog posts, which I no doubt would end up having to edit drastically, because of typos, errors and just a lack of sense being made due to the time at which they were written.

That really is all for this post seeing as it is late and I should sleep even if I have no classes tomorrow.

Good night!

Register to vote by Tuesday to be eligible to vote in the Irish marriage referendum

Young’uns of Ireland, if you still haven’t registered to vote and want to take part in the marriage referendum next year, the registration forms have to be in by Tuesday (November 25th, 2014).

Info on how to register.

Haven’t a notion if you’re registered or not?  Check the registrer.

Don’t think you’ll be in the country to vote?  You might be eligible for a postal vote.  (Works for erasmus, work placements and the likes if organised in advance.)

(Same goes for if the referendum is on a weekday and you’re miles away from your voting station because of college.)

Hon voting, yurt.

Why I’ve started experimenting with a certain drug

For the first twenty years of my life, I was sober. I somehow managed to defy the Irish stereotype which ultimately results in the notion that we, as a nation, are “fond of the drink”. I avoided the drug for longer than most people expected, or indeed thought was normal, seeing as I got a lot of questioning over it.  Strangely, much more so as an underage non-drinker, which eventually resulted in me sadly giving up on the battle with peer pressure, and having about enough drinks to count on one hand, while I was seventeen.  I then turned eighteen, and decided that because I could now legally drink, it was an ideal time to give up drinking (logical, eh?), not that I’d ever really started.

Yes, the drug I’m talking about is alcohol.  Many people don’t consider it a drug, but it is.  Apparently, it’s more harmful than heroin and cocaine, though that could just be based on the sheer number of people who cause harm to themselves or others because of alcohol, compared to other drugs.  Look at me, referencing things I haven’t a clue about – you’d swear this was an assignment!

I have literally started drinking in the hope that it will improve my college results. No, seriously. This is basically an experiment to see if it will. That or I’ll become a fully fledged alcoholic, only time will tell.

The craic may also secretly be a factor, but it’s more empowering and mildly amusing for me to think of it as a means of helping my education.

I study languages. My course involves a huge amount of travel – we generally spend between a year, and a year and a half of our four-year course, abroad – usually in two different countries. The idea of this, of course, is that we greatly improve upon the languages we study. Naturally, this involves meeting a lot of new people, and often being in situations where you’re both the only outsider, and the only one non-native speaker of the language. It’s often difficult being an outsider when you can speak the local language, but add to this an inability to express yourself clearly, or communicate with others easily, and it makes for some tricky situations.

And that’s where the alcohol comes in. I’ve both noticed, and been told, that alcohol makes people talk more.  Even when it’s not in a language they’re fluent in – that doesn’t matter. The alcohol doesn’t care. It just thinks you should speak. A lot. So you do.

(Not exactly a groundbreaking discovery here, but, as I may have hinted before, speaking a language actually helps you improve it. Probably more so than any other form of study.)

Basically, I could spend all day in the library studying French grammar, or I could go out in a French-speaking area, have a few drinks, and chat away with people in French for the night. The latter sounds like more fun, and could very well be more beneficial. Yes, it’s times like this that I rediscover my love for my course. You know, when our assignments are basically to go travel and have the craic in whatever languages we’re studying (*ahem* as well as, of course, work and study and all that…), rather than readings and essays and the likes.

Sure, I can easily talk plenty without alcohol, but I’ve found that it requires a lot of effort, sometimes, and that even when I’m confident enough in my ability to communicate, I end up being really quiet in large groups.  Or just in general, when it comes to languages other than English. I’m used to embarrassing myself by needing a few attempts at saying what I’m trying to say, or simply saying things incorrectly, or being misunderstood because of my accent (if I had a euro for every time someone thought I said I was from ‘Holanda’, or ‘Hollande’, instead of ‘Irlanda’, or ‘Irlande’…). I don’t care as much about that anymore. But I’ve found that when I am brave enough to chat in groups, that it sometimes takes me a while to pluck up the courage to do so, or that I simply don’t do it enough. And it’s sad relying on alcohol to counteract that, but honestly, it’s way easier, and far more efficient.  (I’m lazy.)

So there you go. I really have given up being a non-drinker for the purpose of language learning. That, and I won’t lie, after a few years you do get a little sick of being completely sober while a minority of extremely drunk people are generally just being irritating on nights out (the majority of course being great craic – genuinely, otherwise I wouldn’t be out with them), but I don’t think that alone would have caused me to start drinking.

*Spoiler* I’ll probably return to the non-drinker life again soon enough.  That or I’ll just continue to barely drink, being the lightweight that I am, and will probably have more non-alcoholic nights out than ones where I drink, even if people don’t seem to get why I’d want to do that.  At least if I quit, I’ll now finally get to say “I’ve been sober for X months/years”, which might be a fun challenge to keep track of.  That and maybe people would react more positively to that than the old “yeah I never really drank” line.

And that concludes this episode of reasons to drink, according to Sarah.

Cheers.

(I’m sorry okay I’m terrible for attempting to make puns, or laughing at even the worst ones.  I don’t think that even counts.)

 

(If you’re wondering why I avoided alcohol for so long, seeing as most people ask, or at least are probably a little curious about it, I’ll get to that another day, it would take far too long to explain in this post.)

Coin Flip

On Sunday, my inability to make a decision finally resulted in me choosing to flip a coin, to help me figure out what I wanted.  And I’d been told that when you flip a coin to make a serious decision, it results in you generally realising what you want before the coin even lands.  Maybe that knowledge messed it up for me because in the time the coin was flipped into the air, spun and caught, all my mind was telling me was “I don’t know”.  I actually couldn’t decide.  The coin failed.  I failed.

Except I think I just had a delayed reaction to the coin flip, or it it didn’t have the same effect because I was so aware that it was going to make me decide so I panicked, was sort of scared, and couldn’t think.  Even a minute later, when I was told the coin had said ‘heads’ – which we had chosen to mean I would stay in France for the year – my reaction was disappointment.  I knew that it would have been the same if they had said it was tails, but from that moment on, and taking into account some advice from college friends who’d all already made their decisions long ago and without much difficulty, I started seriously thinking about leaving my erasmus at just one semester, instead of extending it to two.

I think I made my mind up on the day, within  an hour of  the coin flip, but I’ve been pondering it since to make sure I’m doing the right thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to stay for the year, or come back to this town to live here for a while, but I think going home is the right decision.  If I stayed it would probably make college much more difficult, between various modules, and most of all, the equivalent of a thesis that we have to write at some point in the next year and a half.  Seeing as it’s half of third year and all of fourth year we’re talking about here, I’d rather not make things any more complicated than they should be.

I’ve had a massive weight lifted off my shoulders after that anyway.  Fully recommend making serious decisions at least a few days before the deadline (and no later) to everyone.  Except that’s generally what people do, isn’t it?  Yeah…  Well, I tried.  This is a much better result than my last few major academic decisions, which were made either on deadline day, or when it was too late.  Great day for the parish.

An unfortunate and ironic presentation title choice

On Monday, I had my first French class here (excluding a couple of translation classes).  We had to get into groups of three, and pick from the list given what we would do our presentations on.  So naturally enough, I found a pair to work with, asked what they were thinking of doing the presentation on, and went with that, because it happened to be a really interesting topic for me too, and I hadn’t really read the list too carefully.  The subject we chose, was something along the lines of – “peut-on vivre sans un smartphone ?”, or basically, “can you live without a smartphone?”.

Now, unlike most people I know, I didn’t have a smartphone at the time, had never had one, and still don’t, which I suppose gives a different angle to the presentation.  But I have an iPod Touch, so the only negative difference between the combination of that and my beloved Nokia, and an actual smartphone, is that you can’t get Whatsapp on an iPod (Viber, Snapchat, Skype, Facebook Messenger and every other iOS app I’ve ever wanted all work on them, so there isn’t much need for Whatsapp, I suppose), and you can’t pay to use internet on them.  For me, that wasn’t a problem because ain’t nobody got time fo’ that, and I usually have access to wifi, or contact people by call, text, or just later on if I don’t.  No big deal.  I consider my iPod to basically be 95% – a smartphone.

Except I don’t have an iPod.  I lost it the day after we chose our presentation titles…

“O my prophetic soul!”

Hamlet quotes are always relevant.  Deal with it.

Anyway, life without anything close to a smartphone should be fun.  Added to that, this lack of English-speaking thing I’ve started.  And, speaking of which (seeing as one rule for the no English speaking was that I could do so on Skype and the likes) – my one-and-a-half-year-old laptop now refuses to use a lot of apps (it has apps, because it’s silly and has Windows 8), including Skype.  Making calls with any kind of program, from what I can see, doesn’t really work either.  At least, I got the call function of Facebook’s video caller to work recently, but not audio on anything else.  I haven’t tried every possible means of calling or video-calling yet, but I’ve tried a few with no success, and I don’t expect others to be any more successful, but fingers crossed the audio on Facebook will work so I can actually talk to people.

There’s some extra irony at play here I think.  First, I quit speaking English, except for on Skype, and in a few other situations, then I discover that Skype doesn’t work on my laptop.  Then, I decide to do a presentation on if it’s possible to live without a smartphone, and lose what was basically a smartphone for me.

It’s a bit strange that both of those things happened within the space of two days, but hopefully that’s the end of this sorcery…

I’ve had a crazy language-learning idea that just might work

It’s taken me thirty days, living in France, to have this brainwave, but it has finally happened.  Or, maybe more accurately, thirty days of often having great craic with Irish people (oh hey comfort zone) and other anglophones, but not really speaking or learning anywhere near as much French as I’d like to.

Inspiring quotes stolen from the internet – for all your motivational needs

Anyway, on the night of September 29th, I finally had this epiphany…

What’s the best way for me to improve at French?  By not speaking English!  Okay, I knew that before – that wasn’t really the epiphany.  I’d always known it – I mean for as long as I can remember wanting to learn any language.  The idea was only reinforced recently when I read ‘Fluent in 3 Months’ creator, Benny Lewis’s article on the topic, which I recommend if you want more language-learning motivation.

But – and yes, of course there’s a but – believe it or not, that is indeed easier said than done.  Especially, when you’re on erasmus, most of your friends are native speakers of English, and most other people you know, or get to know, speak it very well, or at the very least, know some, and can probably converse a little.  People also tend to think you’re a bit mental if you just decide you’re not speaking any more English.  (Obviously, there are some rules that go with this, namely – I can skype in English, and speak it to anyone from home who visits me, but I’ll get to all that later, probably in a separate post.)  Even when people really want to improve at their target language, it just seems a bit crazy to go all out and quit speaking the only language you’re fluent in.  At this stage though, I think it’s just all or nothing.  It’s easier this way, really.

Right, here’s where my own brainwave comes in…  I honestly think it would be extremely difficult to do this without some sort of excuse that people might possibly accept (otherwise I’d probably have started earlier).  So, my stroke of genius is, that I’ll bet some money with a few friends that I can avoid speaking English (bear in mind that all the rules of this still have to be worked out) until I leave France to go home for Christmas.  That’s only all of October, November, and most of December.  It’s not really that long.  And I assume that the first week or so will be the most difficult – then after that, it’ll get easier every week.  I don’t know how much to bet, but it’s going to be a bet where I’d actually win €0 if I succeeded.  I don’t want to win money from people, I just want to learn French.  I’ll bet with people, that I can avoid speaking English until my Christmas holidays, and if I lose, I pay them all.  I think it would be about a dozen people, so it wouldn’t be much each, but, the total amount will have to be enough to give me more motivation not to lose.  The thing is, I don’t plan on losing.  I’m not being big-headed and saying I think this will be easy.  I just don’t want to just throw money away, that’s not the idea of this, so I’m setting myself what I think is a manageable challenge.  In reality, I just think money would just be a bit of an added incentive, and it might make life easier if people want me to speak English, and I’m able to say that actually, I stand to lose a lot of money I really can’t afford to lose if I do, so I can’t.

And it’s not a thing that I’m going to expect people to speak French to me.  Ideally, they would, but if English is their native language, then fine, I understand English, and if they’re here on erasmus too then we both have some level of French so we can all understand each other.  If there’s an extreme communication barrier at times, as there will be, I can switch to my broken Irish with the Irish students, or try Spanish with anyone who speaks it, seeing as I now seem to find it easier to speak than French.  Sign language, gestures, drawings, whatever, if I’m feeling really determined to use zero English (I think being allowed to ask in French how to say a word in English is just logical, and makes it easier for anyone trying to deal with my attempts to communicate with them).  If people just want to practice their English with me too, even though the idea of them being here is probably to learn French, and they’re truly adamant about learning English, then fine.  I won’t lie, I won’t be happy about it, but with English it’s kind of inevitable, so if I still get to speak French, or even Spanish to them, and they respond in English, I’ll still learn something from speaking a language other than English.  I can live with that.

Another key exception I should point out straight away is that I’m going to play sort of by the rules (or rule, really) of the gaeltacht I went to a few years ago – one full sentence in English (or in that case, a language other than Irish) is not allowed.  I also believe that the young gaeilgeoirs got a warning if that happened, and were then kicked out, but I’m not sure if I’ll add that, I suppose it’s a good idea…  The main thing though is, if I accidentally react to something by saying something along the lines of “yeah”, “what?”, or “shite!”, in English, and then realise and go back to French – it doesn’t count – stuff like that is almost impossible to avoid at the start, at least.

A lot of people might think this idea is crazy, stupid, or just plain annoying if you’re unfortunate enough to be an English-speaker on erasmus with me (le sozz, guys), but I think it’s crazy to study French (or any language) for as long as I have, study it in college, and then go on erasmus in France – it also happening to be your first time in France – and not doing your best to speak the language as much as possible.  For me it would just be such a wasted opportunity, and such a waste of time and money.

I decided to start as soon as October arrived – literally at midnight last night, I stopped speaking English.  I even tested it out a little before that – mainly warning people that I was going to start speaking French to them, explaining myself, and speaking French with some of them to see how strange or difficult it was.  And it was very odd.  But it was possible.  We could converse.  We could understand each other (most of the time).  And most people I tried speaking French to wanted to practise it too, but like me, hadn’t spoken it as much as they’d like to yet.  So when I brought it up, and awkwardly switched to French with people, it got them responding in French, even if it was only for a few minutes.  It’s a start.  And it’s shown me that it’s possible for me to do this.  So I think I will.

I guess I’ll keep you posted.  Hopefully it’ll be a succès.

 

PS:  Like a lot of challenges, I guess if I tell enough people what I plan on doing, then it’s an extra incentive to go for it, ’cause it would be kind of mortifying if I kept telling everyone about this, and then failed spectacularly.  So if you’re wondering why on earth I’m sharing this spiel, there you go.  I just want to add possible embarrassment to the mix so I’ll work harder at avoiding English.