French Language Classes in D.C.

Caen's Hotel de Ville with international flags

Shortly after starting this blog, I made improving my mediocre French a priority. After much deliberation, I decided that enrolling in French Language Classes at the D.C. Alliance Francaise would force me to start acting on the plans I’d halfheartedly talked about for almost a decade.

I’ll admit I didn’t 100% stick to the plan I’d laid out. Shortly after starting my daily French plan, I discovered BMFTV, a Parisian news station that streams free 24/7. I cannot understate how much I have benefited from watching the French news. Listening to natural speech patterns and introductions while getting reacquainted with general subjects like the weather have done more to catch me up than I could possibly have imagined. Harry Potter was a great help, but I also checked out traditional French texts like Ajax and Le Petit Prince from my local library. I also wasn’t very good at using flash cards, though if I’m honest I never really have been, and my goal of practicing daily was frequently interfered with by life things.Harry Potter & Le Petit Prince in French

This self-study affirmed what I already knew – that I was stuck, and my French would never improve without some new motivation and instruction.

All of this practice was to prepare me for one thing: the placement test I needed to take by August 19th. In researching and preparing, I began to second guess my decision to take classes at the Alliance in D.C. First, it’s a really big commitment to make on work nights. The Alliance in D.C. is almost an hour and a half from where I live, split between driving and the metro in good traffic. That’s three hours of commuting (if the train is on time) for only two hours of class, and I would be making the trip twice a week after work for two months.

Second, the cost of the class is still a factor. Courses at the alliance are typically  $399.00, but are reduced to $379.00 for registering early. In order to register, you need to have a membership with the D.C. Alliance ($60 annually) and need to purchase a book and workbook ($50 per level). The class would cost me $479.00 BEFORE factoring in additional commuting costs like extra gas, metro cards, and meals out because I didn’t have time to prepare dinner.

europe 322It’s really easy to decide not to do something because it’s expensive and inconvenient. Those are perfectly valid reasons in plenty of circumstances, but in my case they were just excuses. Realistically, I’ve made similar commutes througout my life when things were important to me, and I’m good at making budgets that reflect my goals. As someone who wants to travel and communicate with others with different perspectives from other parts of the world, this is an investment in becoming who I want to be.

The test was nothing at all like I expected. I was shown a picture of a building, and told to write 15 lines describing the building and giving my opinion on its artistic merits. I whipped out 10 lines in about 10 minutes, and spent a half hour trying to fluff it out. (Later, when interviewing on the phone, I got the impression 15 lines may have meant 15 sentences. Whoops).

Once submitted, the D.C. Alliance wasn’t listed among the options of where to send my scores. Apparently, there are four closer chapters of the Alliance, two which do not offer classes, and two which do offer classes that don’t work with my schedule at all. My level of stress at this point was indescribable. I had spent months preparing, only to find out after completeing the test that I may be inelgiable to take the class.

Panicked, I emailed the D.C. chapter explaining my situation and forwarding my test. I texted Grace (obviously) worried that I wouldn’t be able to attend the only classes that fit my schedule, and apprehensive about my test results.

Luckily, I was put out of my misery before work the next day. I placed in to B1-4 (a drop of about half a level since my certification as intermediate in 2010), and was told an oral interview would be required, but was otherwise all set to attend classes. I thanked them profusely for the rapid response, and scheduled an interview for 2:30 on Friday.

I left work at 2:30 and patiently waited for the call that would decide my fate. Mid-B1 was about where I expected to place, but much lower and I was sure I’d be benefiting much from the classes. As my oral expression and comprehension are much weaker than their written equivalents, I was very nervous that after the interview I would be dropped far below my expectations. At 2:40 I started to get worried. At 2:45, I called the Alliance and didn’t get an answer. At 2:50, I went back to work.

Of course, about 20 minutes later, the phone rings. I frantically leave the office, while the person on the other end must think I’m crazy for murmuring between long periods of silence while escaping the building. This is where I find out I may have written a bit too much. After an interview in which I feel I adequately express my abilities (decent foundation, many conjugations and tenses forgotten), my place in B1-4 is confirmed. When I go back to the office, I am sweating like a pig in June (I actually said this out loud. I know.), but I am so relieved to finally have the stressful parts finished.

As I type this, I have just registered for my class. After pricing the text book on Amazon, I decided that the $10 of savings isn’t worth the risk that I’ll order the wrong edition, and seal my fate.

While I’ll need to sacrifice time, money, and my beloved Tuesday yoga class, prioritizing fluency in French feels like the best thing I can possibly do for myself in this moment. I’m glad I’m taking the class (and writing about it here) so that I hold myself accountable to my long term goals.

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