Madison will be starting her junior year at U-M this fall, with a double major in Communication Studies and American Culture, and a minor in Digital Studies. She hopes to go on to graduate school before pursuing a career in public relations. She is currently participating in the French 230 program in Grenoble, France in order to complete the LSA language requirement.
I have been studying French since my freshman year of high school. Six years. That’s a pretty long time. And yet, after all the time spent in Grenoble, I still don’t consider myself fluent in French. In fact, my favorite words in the French language are still “en anglais.” I hoped that during these six weeks, my host family would simply ask me yes or no questions or assume I was mute, resorting to only charades. (I’d honestly have a better chance at charades than actual French).
I shortly realized something once I got here. Well, two things. First, I’m not that bad at speaking French. I mean, I’m not great at it, but I am a very comfortable mediocre French speaker. I can even carry on an entire conversation about American politics en français! Second, and more importantly, I realized that language is for communication. Since I am a Communication Studies major, this specific realization really hit me. I read that communication is 35% verbal and 65% nonverbal. This fact has indeed held true for me during my time in Grenoble so far. While I may not know the exact word for the delicious French pastry I order each morning, I am able to get by everyday by focusing on a human-to-human interaction rather than being hung up on grammar structures and proper vocabulary of the language (except in my French class of course!) Language is meant for communication, which is more than words, phrases, and grammar. Communication is about connecting with people to convey different messages. So with a few smiles, apologies for my poor French skills, and different gestures later, I happily have my gâteau "Victor Hugo" au chocolat.
Six years ago, I dreamed of becoming fluent in French. Even though I now know that this is no longer a realistic expectation, I don’t feel disappointed, but rather empowered. Before my experience abroad, I thought that I would have to be fluent in a language to navigate the country. However, I have learned that this is not the case and realize that I don’t have to worry about being a perfect French speaker. Instead, I have learned that I can work on becoming a more efficient global communicator.