When I found out that my family would be moving to Singapore, I realised that I would need to pick up a ‘mother tongue’ in secondary school. Growing up in America hadn’t exposed me to the Singaporean system, but I knew enough from stories that my cousins told me to know it was tough. Scary and tough. I had to put on my battle gear and prepare for the war!
Unfortunately, my actual ‘mother tongue’, Malayalam, was not offered as an acceptable language then, as it is now. In those days, most of us picked from the typical Mandarin, Bahasa Malay or Tamil. Luckily for me, because I entered the local system much later, I was exempted from the three main languages and allowed to choose a foreign language in lieu.
I was thrilled and most people who have taken Tamil will understand why. The alphabets alone can give you a headache. The choice between French and German was a no-brainer. I had always loved the French language, the culture and the croissants. Laissez-faire, you might call it.
Even then, a year before I would have to start French lessons, I wanted to learn it on my own. Such was my naivete. I borrowed an old audiobook (a cassette audiobook!) from the library and tried very hard for the 2 weeks that I had the loan. Needless to say, 2 weeks is not enough and an old audiobook from the 80’s is not a good reference. Still, to this day, I remember the first and only thing I learnt from that audiobook: “Mon anniversaire est le 12 Juillet”.
Basically, I wanted to tell everyone when my birthday was so I could get lots of presents. That never happened, but I did realise that French was MUCH harder than I had expected and that I needed a book from this century.
When I started French at the Ministry of Education Language Centre, the curriculum was gruelling and the language seemed more foreign than ever. I started to fail at a subject that I genuinely found interesting and loved! I realised I needed to truly immerse myself in the language. I was on a mission. Here are some tips that really helped me:
- Une tasse pas un verre.
I translated my house. I put up French translations for items and rooms all over my house. For a good three years, each room in my house, every kitchen item and every piece of furniture had a sticker with its French translation. Thanks to this nifty trick, I was constantly revising my vocabulary!
- I watched movies and listened to music
This was probably the most fun part of learning a new language. I got to use it as a reason to watch TV or listen to music! Granted most of the French shows I managed to rent or CDs I bought were extremely old, but it was very useful when it came to getting pronunciation and inflection in my speech. Since then, my oral exams have always been my forte.
Most of the students at the MOELC are top students from the top schools who qualified to take a foreign language as a third language. Therefore, mother tongue-in-lieu students were rare. So, the gap between the learning ability of the top students and myself was, many a time, wide. It was understandable that my class teacher was busy catering to the needs of many students and couldn’t always explain to me why they say “J’ai chaud” instead of “Je suis chaud”. I knew it would be important to get a teacher who could focus their attention on me and, more importantly, motivate me to learn my verbs.
Like all happy endings, I improved, but took a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Through my journey in French, I have discovered that:
- My true love is not a croissant, but brioche.
- The French movies and songs I used to listen to were probably older than my mother.
- The francophonie Français is so huge that French is spoken on almost every continent.
I have used my French knowledge to help me get exchange opportunities during my university, apply for jobs and even land clients, even though I don’t work for an international company. I have found that learning a foreign language has helped me understand my own mother tongue and even the English language better. Apart from the undeniable benefits to brain function, learning French helps me think more logically.
Agape School of Education (ASE) is special because they ensure classes are small to maximise teacher-student interaction. The teachers at ASE are a mix of native and non-native teachers who learn from each other to better help their students. ASE’s unique curriculum includes teaching students the culture behind the language so that they can better immerse themselves in the language and enhance their learning experience.