French Learner Interview Series: Debby on Immersion and Speaking from Day One

Debby Bonnheim is a retired Home Economics, Art and French teacher. In this interview she explains how learning pronunciation before writing and speaking from day one helped her reach a good level in French.

  Could you tell French Together readers a little bit about yourself?

Salut !  I come from the Central Coast of California and am a retired Home Economics, Art and French teacher.

Currently, I teach french to a group of fabulous ladies, who I met while teaching French at the local Adult School.  We are all very passionate about the language, which makes our courses interesting and always entertaining.  Learning a language is something which is always very good for your brain, coupled with the fact that you are not only learning another language, but learning another culture as well.

Why and  for how long have you been learning French? How did you get started?

My mother was 100% French, however, the language was not spoken in our home unless she was upset about something!

Our French grandparents left France at the early age of 20 and settled in Northern California.  As children, our French grandmother taught us some French songs, and to count to 10, but that was the extent of it.

I did take 2 years of French in high school, which was little or no help to me when my husband and I moved to France in 1974, at which time he enrolled in a Medical school in Bordeaux.

We decided to live in Bordeaux because my French roots were there, which proved to be incredibly helpful for me when it came to learning the language.

I can say that it was total immersion for both of us!  We lived in Bordeaux for 6 years.  I was 21 years old when we moved there.  What a fabulous experience.

What’s your current level in French?

My current level is surely not as good as it was when we lived in Bordeaux.

I have been blessed to be able to teach the language at the Jr. High School Level, the High School Level, and presently, to adults.

I could say that I am fluent, but the words do not come as easily as before (age could have something to do with that!!). However, once I return to France, I feel as though it is like getting back on a bicycle for the first time in a long time, it takes a couple of days, and then it comes back to me.

How are you learning French?

The students and I read various books, magazines, watch movies and share information.  There is a wealth of information out there now with the available technology we have.  Which is much more accessible than it was when we lived in France.

What are/were your biggest struggles? How did you overcome them?

I love to talk to people, and the first four months in Bordeaux were very difficult for me.  I could not express myself, and felt as though I had no personality or opinions.

So, I spoke, right or wrong, I talked to everyone.  They would correct me, which I appreciated.  I made every mistake imaginable, as Ben has illustrated in his lessons!

I believe that one should not try to translate what they wish to say, in their heads, but instead, learn appropriate french expressions or idioms instead.  Also, the gender is a big problem for English speaking people.  Learn the noun and gender together, as a package deal, and you won’t forget it.

I learned the language by speaking it, and I feel that was the best way for me to learn.  French is not a phonetic language, therefore, seeing it and pronouncing it can be a challenge.  Learning to say it first, and then worrying about writing it later, worked out best for me.

Over to you

Got a question or a comment! Answer in the comment section below this interview!

Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters.

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