I’m not going to lie – it’s very scary to find yourself a participant amidst a large group of people sitting in a circle and speaking French. I’ve been in Toronto for six years, and have found many opportunities to speak almost any language except for French, despite our relative proximity to Québec. My verbal skills have been progressively rusting away, only to be shocked back into reality by attending the French Club’s Conversation Club last week.
This month the Conversation Club met in the International Student’s Centre. It was held in a large and somewhat grand, nineteenth-century style room on the main floor, where students came and left at leisure between classes, practicing their French and socializing with other students. It took me a few minutes to acclimatize to understanding a language I haven’t really used in a few years, but within the space of the two-hour event, my French really started to come back. The gathering began by sitting in a wide circle and taking turns discussing something unique about ourselves with the rest of the group. It then proceeded into a series of French language games that actively engaged everyone, got us all talking, and introduced us to new terms and vocabulary.
EFUT (Étudiants Francophones De L’Université de Toronto) puts on a number of events and services which provide students with venues wherein they can practice and improve their language skills. The French Club stresses that membership is open to all levels of speakers, novices and veterans alike. The monthly Conversation Club, just like it sounds, involves discussing topics with the rest of the group, playing language games while increasing your vocabulary, and familiarizing yourself with listening and speaking to other French speakers. The French Club also puts on a pub night (not surprisingly one of their more popular events), once a month at Cafe La Gaffe, on Baldwin St. It hosts regular movie nights and is in the process of developing theatre productions on campus. From EFUT, you can even get grammatical help with your assignments by going to the EFUT office (21 Sussex, room 604) between 4-5 pm from Monday to Friday, and bringing with you assignments or papers due for class. There, one of EFUT’s execs, like Nikola, (who I met and who speaks not only French and English, but also Turkish), provides one-on-one French tutoring help. You can find more information about the French Club here.
I speak from experience when I say that learning a new language can be painful. Between French and Latin, I’ve dedicated long hours to memorizing grammatical rules, exceptions to the same rules, and exceptions to those exceptions. Although I’ve been lucky enough to have been introduced to French early in life, not using the language has had a deleterious effect on my proficiency to be able to speak it and understand it. The language learned from textbooks never embodies the fluidity or naturalism gained from everyday speaking. Involvement in language clubs isn’t only social or educational – it allows you to maintain and improve the skills you’ve back-breakingly acquired, and to do so in real-life settings.
Thanks to the ingenuity of people like Nikola and Antonin (EFUT’s president), you can do all of this while meeting new people, playing games, watching movies, and even enjoying a pint at the local pub.