Studying abroad won’t make you fluent. You will.
I have heard from many people that immersion, specifically by going to another country that speaks your target language, is the fastest and most effective way to become fluent in a language. I try not to have expectations before doing something, trying something new, or going somewhere. However, I was so excited to study abroad and I had this fantasy that studying abroad would be an experience where I would be fully immersed in the language and be surrounded by other people who would not speak a word of English to me. I was very wrong.
Whether I was hanging out with American friends in my program, or trying to use the language outside of the classroom, most conversations ended up being in English. This happened for a couple of reasons:
1. It is so easy to sink back into English when you are with another native English speaker.
2. Many people will want to practice their English on you.
Thank goodness for living with host families that will not speak English to you and for taking classes that are taught in the target language.
When I was in Madrid last semester, there were times where I felt like I spoke more Spanish back in the United States. That experience was a little bit different than my current experience in Nantes. I purposefully immersed myself in Spanish, French, and even Portuguese back in the States. I set my Facebook and my phone to my target language, I actively studied the language, and I had language partners that I spoke with often. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish did improve in Spain and my French is currently improving, but it is just at a slower pace. It is crazy to think that you can live in a country and not really have to speak the language.
I do try to speak French while I am here whether it is with other people in my program or while I am in a restaurant or out shopping. There is definitely more I can do to improve my French, but I have to actively seek out opportunities even though I am in a French-speaking country.
I want to add that I am sure that there are some places you could go and be totally immersed in the language. I also feel that the level you come into the country with plays a role in how you will feel about your experience. I was fluent in Spanish before going to Madrid, so I was not too upset by all of the English I spoke. My French is at a B2 level (upper intermediate/conversational) and I would like to be fluent, so I have to try a little harder to speak it more.
I cannot believe I have been in Nantes for two months already! In two more short months, I will be returning home and my study abroad adventure will come to a close. Time goes by so fast and I intend to make the most of it.