Different Tongues: Why Axing English and Embracing Aixois is (Significantly) More Difficult Than You’d Think.

“We decided that once school begins we’ll start speaking it most of the time,” I said to my host mother over dinner with my roommate on one of our first nights in Aix-en-Provence. 

“Oh that won’t happen,” she said. “After a full day of classes, the last thing you’re going to want to do is go out with your friends and keep speaking French.” Ouch. A former American resident and current Aixois of 30 years, she’s a no-nonsense woman who managed to pop my romantic balloon of an idea of what French life would be like in one perfectly executed slash. Throughout my years of studying French, I’d always imagined this semester sitting somewhere in the future holding a key that will magically unlock my ability to speak the language without tire all day long. But what I’ve found out so far? She was right. My host mother was right, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Some students decide to take a semester abroad for the culture, others for the food, others their ‘chance to see the world.’ For me, it was the language. Studying a language seems to be one of the many things in life that doesn’t present you with an immediate pay off — unless you are breathing in french air, sharing bottles of wine and little pots of yogurt (the French are very, very, proud of their yogurt. It comes in exotic flavors and for some strange reason is particularly tasty) with those in a native country, it usually doesn’t come easily. This semester is for me, and will be for many of you who will be studying abroad in the future, that payoff. 

Studying Abroad in Aix en Provence

Markets are a great place to practice your French in a low stress environment! If you’re in the Provence region, you’re likely to see a stand (or many stands) that look like this — the Aixois take their olive varieties VERY seriously. As you can see, there are quite a few of them!

Studying Abroad in Aix en Provence

Another shot of a market, and the many spices of Provence! This market is in the Rotonde which is the center of the city, about a 30 second walk from my homestay.

Life in Aix, like other Provençal French towns and cities, is full of locals with the freshest foods who set up their stands on the streets of Aix every day. (I know! Every dang day!) Cafés line the streets and have owners who will know you by name after only a few stops in. My point is, opportunities to speak the language will present themselves to you naturally if you simply decide to live daily like the locals do. Buy two shovel fulls of Kalamata olives from the man at the Rotonde market even if he says the cost of it too quickly for you to understand the first time (It’s okay, he’ll get a laugh out of it. Also, #protip: two shovel fulls of olives is too many unless your diet consists of only olives for several days. They are very salty here, although incredible, so it’s best to have only a few at a time.) 

Sights to see near Aix en Provence

La Montagne Sainte Victoire off in the distance — Aix’s nearest mountain that I hiked on my first Saturday in France! We chatted with a few fellow hikers on the way up — none of us could completely understand each other, but it’s how you learn! And if you think you’re lost, sometimes all you need is a simple finger point to guide you in the right direction :)

Sights to see near Aix en Provence

Almost to the top! We took a moment to look down on the view of Provence from Sainte Victoire. Even though it was a cold January day, we met some rock climbers out in tank tops scaling the top of the mountain! We weren’t quite that brave :)

Sights to see in Aix en Provence

Inside of The Cathédrale St-Sauveur (The Holy Savior Catheral) in old town Aix. We visited this ancient cathedral on a French-spoken tour of the city (which meant we had to listen extra carefully!).

The truth? Forcefully speaking French with your friends will be tiring. It’s tiring and it can feel fake. But going out to the markets, asking questions at restaurants, asking for directions, striking up conversations with locals on a bus (that’s a story for another time, I promise), and attending school helps so much. And for me, it’s only been a little over two weeks since I landed in this new place! There is so much to learn and I am going to keep my eyes open to see it and my hands open to write it down. See you so soon.

Sarah S. is the Spring 2017 MOJO Blogger in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a Sophomore studying English Non Fiction Writing & French at University of Pittsburgh.

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