This week, I had the rare opportunity to experience something that many students may not be able to experience during their time abroad- complete language immersion in the countryside of France. At the small opera company that I intern for, one of their main objectives is to make music, opera, and the art of singing accessible to people of all ages, race, and social standing. They host concerts 6 times in Paris, as well as plan a one-week singing residency and concert during the months of May, July, and August in the countryside of France. This last week, I was lucky to participate in the intensive concert residency for 6 days in Trezioux village, in the southern region ‘Aubergne’ of France. Trezioux is located in the volcanic regions of southern France with lots of mountains, springs, farms, located 4.5 hours by drive from Paris, away from human civilization. During the residency, the singers and the administrative team stayed in the beautiful chateau in the small village Miole, where we slept, ate, and rehearsed under the same roof for 6 days. A typical day in the residency starts with an optional breakfast followed by a mandatory voice warm-up and rehearsal from 9:30 to 12:30, followed by a Lunch break and another afternoon rehearsal from 2:00 to 4:30 in the afternoon. A typical rehearsal would consist of taking the first 30 minutes to warm up our voice and the body, and working on pieces by dissecting and rehearsing each voice (bass, tenor, alto, soprano). After the afternoon rehearsals, the chorus gets a 3 hour free time break and reconvene for dinner with the whole company at 7:30. Each meal was delivered by a nearby catering shop, which always included different types of cheeses, breads, a balanced entrée, dessert, and a local ‘Aubernian’ wine. During the first night of our arrival, I participated in my first ‘Apero’, which is a social gathering before dinner with finger foods such as Cornichons (pickled cucumbers), varieties of cheeses, charcuterie board, wine, and bread. The Apero and the dinner was my first ever experience surrounded by French native speakers, most of them never have even learned or spoken the English language. I felt nervous at first but being patient and asking many questions enabled me to break out of my shell and step into the complex world of the French language and culture.
During this week, the obvious challenge pertaining to the internship that I have faced was the language barrier and the process of language learning, which includes a certain ambiguity and unclear direction. French is the fist language that I have ever learned, and through the process of conversing with French native speakers, I have come to realize that language learning and improvement is not linear and requires a constant reinforcement of connecting the dots, and slowly increasing the speed of each of those connections. This takes a long time for language learners especially those who balance different languages already (for example, I speak Japanese and English), because they follow a process of translation at first. However, when infants hear a language for the first time, they come to know phrases, vocabulary, conjugations, and grammar by reflex and know it for what it is in that language, without having to translate. Therefore, although the process of translation is important, it is indispensable to think in the language you are trying to learn. Process of translation can take place during language studies for conjugations, grammar, vocabulary and learning how to write but conversational practice in that language allows you to reinforce and strengthen those connections, eventually strengthening them until you know the vocabulary or phrase in that language. During the week of the residency, I have learned many phrases and vocabularies, but my ability to bring them up during conversations were not immediate. I found that one day I may have a big improvement in terms of speaking and being reflexive, while on certain days I was failing to construct a simple sentence. However, when I came back to Paris and spoke with my host family a few days after, it was one of the best experiences of conversation i have ever experienced, with fluidity and freedom in expression without having to translate directly. Language learning and the process of listening and reacting during my internship in France never follows an obvious path, and clear direction is only paved by a consistent practice of reinforcing and strengthening the language reflex.