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2.2.2023: French Peer Tutor Hazal writes about multilingual life

Images of Istanbul, Chicago, and Paris

I was born in Chicago, but my first language was Turkish. My family comes from Sivas, a city in central Turkey. I did not have any exposure to the English language until I started going to school, I think I was 4 or 5 years old. However, fast forward to the present day and I do not remember learning English at all. I do not remember learning Turkish either. To me, it feels automatic, as if I have always known how to perfectly read and write in these two languages. But, my experience with learning French was very different. I chose French because a couple years before, I had started taking piano lessons from a French-Turkish professor. Every time she spoke French, I loved how it sounded. French also has had some influence on the Turkish language, so I thought it would be more interesting to learn. I started taking French classes in high school when I was 15. It definitely was not simple. Even now, five years later, I remember everything we did in class and the process I went through: how I memorized vocabulary, how I learned the conjugation of verbs, and how I tried to improve my pronunciation. Unlike my experience with English and Turkish, I deeply felt every challenge I had while trying to master French.

Personally, the key to my French learning was exposure. My English, Turkish, and French exposure on a daily basis are not equal at all. I am exposed to English everyday, mostly at school for a couple hours each day (in addition, hours spent doing homework and studying). Turkish is similar. I speak Turkish with my family. If I do not have time for books, I try to make sure I read daily news articles in Turkish. However, French is a completely different story. I do not have much exposure to French; I have not lived in a French-speaking country and I do not have French friends I could speak with. So instead, I listen to French music, watch movies with French subtitles or audio, and read short stories or news articles. I think this helped me a lot because it increased my vocabulary significantly. A thrilling, action packed show you can watch on Netflix is called “Lupin.” Audio was great for my pronunciation and speaking skills. I found French pop music to be very appealing, the first French song I listened to was “Papaoutai” by Stromae. Music definitely helped make language learning more enjoyable, and after a while, with practice and exposure, it started to become easier. The problems I had were not completely gone, but I was learning to overcome them.

My advice to language learners is to expose yourself to the language. Language learning is not automatic for adults and struggling is part of the process. If you do not understand what someone is saying, politely ask for them to repeat it. Whether it is movies or songs, or maybe even traveling to the country, try your best to make yourself surrounded by your target language. One key thing I did was that, using my language setting, I changed my phone’s language to French. It was a very amazing (sometimes frustrating) experience. But overall, it was a very helpful step towards mastering French!