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Learning French in Switzerland

March 27th, 2011

I’ve had the temporary post-finals insomnia, when my brain was just too crammed with information to shut down, but after a few nights, I would reacclimate back to my regular sleeping patterns. But transplanting to Switzerland was a whole different animal, and studying will never seem daunting again.

I arrived in Switzerland with the intentions of revamping my telemark racing technique. During an intensive camp, my brain usually goes into hyperactive mode, so I expected a few sleepless nights. What I didn’t expect was the sleepless nights trying to learn French…

My vocabulary bank for French consisted of baguette and croissant, so when I realized that only one member of the team spoke proficient English, I put all my off-hill energy to learning French. Fast.

After a day on the slopes doing one technique drill after the next, getting all my instruction by Franglais and gesticulations, I would practically fall asleep during dinner. I picked up on a few smatterings of words here and there but mostly their machine gun paced conversations left me to zone out in my seat.

When I finally got the chance to go to bed, I would toss and turn all night. I thought up conversations and how situations might unfold in French, describe scenery, looked back on conversations from the day, and even started rehearsing technique. Needless to say, the next day I woke just as tired as when I went to bed the night before.

Three weeks of conversations in my head and smiling and nodding whenever an unfortunate local tried to tell me something, then something incredible happened. My roommate was watching Avatar (in French) on her computer and after grumbling internally about the even greater distraction from sleep, I went to close my eyes. Instead of conversations, I heard the movie, but to my surprise, I understood it.

That night I realized I had begun to learn French, and I slept like a baby.

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