Teenager Improves Language Comprehension by 1 Level in Only 4 Weeks
Born in Seoul, Korea, she moved to New Jersey when she was six years old, already with three languages under her belt.
Louise attended a dual-language elementary school in Seoul where she spoke both Korean and English. At the same time, her babysitter had been teaching her Mandarin Chinese since she was just two years old.
Louise feels her exposure to multiple languages at such an early age really helped shape the way she perceives language learning.
“I really like learning languages and I definitely think it's just something that creates more creativity in your mind and allows you to be flexible in any kind of situation.”
So when faced with a decision to learn another language, she was ready for the challenge.
A New Language
Louise started attending the Horace Mann School in 6th grade and had a choice to make: which language should she study next? It was between two languages offered at the time to 6th graders, Spanish or French. She chose French.
“I thought French sounded really beautiful and, I guess because of the portrayal in Western media, it seemed quite sophisticated and very beautiful. So I thought, why not try it out? I really liked it. I thought that I fit well with the language naturally.”
Louise started as a complete beginner in her sixth grade French class. But her hard work throughout the year made it so she could rise to French II Honors in 7th grade. She credits her teachers at Horace Mann, Mme. Karla Toledano and Mme. MaryBeth Donnelly, for inspiring her to continue her French studies.
“I liked the honors curriculum, how quickly the class moved. I learned more of the language.”
An Opportunity to Take
In the spring of 2018, her mom read an article about the Middlebury Interactive Languages™ Summer Academy—a residential language immersion summer camp in Vermont. There, students take a Language Pledge® to stay in language for four weeks.
Louise hadn’t heard of the program before, but thought it would be an enriching opportunity, especially since beginners and advanced students attend at the same time.
She applied and got in.
“I was definitely very excited, as well as nervous. The thought of me only having studied a language for two years and then going on to speak it for four weeks was quite a large journey I would go through.”
But her love for French and personal drive made her a perfect fit for the Language Academy.
Signing the Language Pledge®
The first night of camp, students were allowed to speak English and got to know one another. Louise was already forging strong friendships with her roommates, hallmates, classmates, and Residential Advisors (RAs).
She started to feel at home. She cherished the diversity of the students and their backgrounds, students who were united by the fact that they were all there to learn the language—something that was unique to a program like this.
The night of the much anticipated Language Pledge®, Louise and her classmates got dressed up in their finest and prepared to sign English away. Nerves were high.
But before the new students signed the Pledge, teachers continued a decade-old tradition by showing everyone the thousands of Language Pledges® that were signed by students who came years before them.
“It's such an important tradition. The fact that you're promising to speak this language for four weeks—whether you've been learning it for five years or for one month—is challenging for very literally everyone. But if you enjoy the process, it can be one of the greatest experiences of your life.”
After Louise and her classmates signed the Pledge, they were required to speak only in French. They were diving right into the essence of what this program is all about.
Louise, like all Language Academy students, had to take a placement test prior to attending the language school. She was placed in level 3A, an intermediate level, based on her results.
Louise’s first week of classes was split between language class and cultural exploration class, where she learned about the diverse Francophone countries.
She definitely faced a lot of challenges in the first week. Trying to only speak French in and of itself is challenging enough, but throwing some unfamiliar grammar into the mix is a lot to take in, whether you’re a teenager or an adult.
However, Louise welcomed the challenge of the Language Pledge®, although it was an adjustment. She carried a translation dictionary around with her to make sure she was understanding what her peers and teachers were saying. She was excited to be learning another language again.
After only one week of the program, her level 3A French teachers saw that she had been really diving in, trying to learn the language. They asked her if she would be interested in bumping up to level 3B. Always ready for a challenge, Louise accepted.
The students in the more advanced classes already had one week of study together and already started making personal connections. Some students in this class had even been speaking French since they were toddlers.
And Louise only knew two verb tenses when she went to the Language Academy. She didn’t understand everything the advanced students were talking about fully.
To overcome this language barrier, she asked them to slow down or to explain words or ideas in a different way. She would ignore any kind of small sound and try to understand the word, phrase, or topic as a whole, filling in the gaps as she went.
Her teacher, M. Sani Adamou, also helped her get acclimated to the new class.
Something that Louise loved learning about was about the history and cultures of Francophone countries—something she didn’t learn about as often as she would have liked to at her school.
“Not only were we speaking the language and learning it, we were also able to study the culture. Language is one of the essences of culture, so they tied together very well.”
The first week and a half in her new level was a new challenge for Louise. But through trying to speak up, trying to catch up, and through making mistakes, she began debating alongside her advanced classmates about the best mode of transportation and how her generation can combat climate change.
“Even now, I reflect back and see my progress. I learned so much, especially from being in the more advanced course.”
Louise enjoyed learning alongside her friends, the events that were planned, and going on off-campus excursions around Vermont.
“In my experience with French, this program would honestly be the turning point for when I realized how much I love French and how much I love being challenged in this way.”
Louise, along with her classmates, took the placement test again at the close of the Academy to see where she improved her French. She improved in all categories: listening, reading, speaking, and writing.
However, she improved her listening comprehension by more than one level on the ACTFL (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages) proficiency scale. She went from Novice-High to Advanced-Low. An impressive jump in just four weeks!
After the Language Academy
Louise took her experience and immediately applied it to her learning journey. She was able to voice her opinions clearly and speak almost fluently as an 8th grader. She noticed she was able to absorb grammar faster than she had before her summer of language immersion.
In her freetime, she continued immersing herself in French by listening to French music, reading and writing in French, and watching French movies.
“I just love French so much. It's become such a large part of my identity.”
She even met regularly with her 8th grade French teacher, M. Kenneth Carpenter, during her free period about anything and everything while only speaking French, which she was used to doing since her experience at the Language Academy. She was determined to keep learning new phrases and advancing her language abilities.
“The Language Academy and my eighth grade French teacher were the highlights of learning this language, but especially the four week program. I learned so much, not just vocab and grammar, but also through experiences and through studying French culture and history. It was such a short time relatively, but I just learned so much.”
When it was time for Louise to enter the 9th grade, she asked her administrators if she could skip a language level.
After being initially turned down, Louise persisted and her teachers let her take a placement exam. From her scores, she was able to study in a 10th grade level course: French III Honors.
“That was quite a leap to a certain extent, but I was so used to French and challenges in French. It was natural for me to go there and talk about whatever I wanted to in French, saying as many different words as I could. And I'm still having fun right now.”
Now, she is looking at taking AP French in 10th grade, Fall of 2020.
Travel pending this summer, she plans to attend another immersive summer program. This time in Montpelier, France via the Oxbridge Academic Program. She wants to experience France first-hand.
It’s not surprising that Louise is going to try to take as many advanced French courses as she possibly can in the next three years of high school.
After that? She wants to go to college and major in French.
“I would say the Academy and my eighth grade experience with M. Carpenter inspired me to continue studying French in my higher education.”
She also wants to explore more French history in general. As a hobby, she’s considering writing articles or papers for competitions. She’s especially interested in the role of women during and in the wake of the French Revolution.
“My interest in learning about the cultures of France and any Francophone country has been passed down from all the culture classes that I was able to take at the Academy.”
Louise has used the immersion model from the Language Academy to excel in her language learning journey. She has gone on to take more and more challenging French courses and continues to find ways to elevate her French language and culture education—all while earning, and I mean truly earning, accolades along the way.
“The passion that I have found for this language definitely started from my experience at MIL and I’m really grateful for that”
Louise still keeps in touch with her friends and RAs from the Academy. When they talk to one another, they always speak in French.
“If I could use one phrase to describe this program, I would probably say it was a life-changing experience.”
Le Grand Concours (national French contest)
- Silver Prize, 6th grade
- Platinum Prize (perfect score), 7th grade
- Platinum Prize (perfect score), 8th grade
Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
- Gold Key
- 4 Silver Keys
- Honorable Mention in Poetry
French Song: Tous les mêmes by Stromae
French Albums: Brol La Suite by Angèle & Racine Carrée by Stromae
French Movies: Les Choristes & Au revoir les enfants
French Books: L’Étranger by Albert Camus—definitely representative of the boldness and beauty of French literature.
Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry—this book is always such a beautiful classic and one I recommend to French students that want to start immersing themselves in the literature.
French Food: Bœuf bourguignon—I first had this on our trip to Café Provence during the Language Academy and I’ve made it at home with my mom multiple times since then—I also love macarons, especially from Ladurée!