Before coming to Rennes, one of my biggest fears was taking classes entirely in French. After all, I’d never taken more than four hours of French classes per week, and I was about to jump into a schedule where I could be taking four hours of french classes each day, not to mention speaking French before and after class with my host family. I spent the summer before going abroad working a nine to five co-op, and while I had every intention of diligently practicing my French, I found that diligence is difficult when the weather is nice and there are no grades on the line. So, for the first couple days in France, I was a deer in the headlights. There was a lot of “repetez, s’il vous plait” and “je ne comprends pas” going around. Luckily, we took two weeks of intensive refresher courses before our classes at the university began.
These “intensive” courses were called the Preliminary Language & Culture Courses, and they weren’t as bad as they sound. Upon arriving in Rennes, each student in the program learned their level of French, based on a placement test that we took during the summer. The levels of French range from A1-C2, with level A1 learners being beginners and level C2 learners being close to fluent. Everyone in my group placed into one of three intermediate levels: B1, B2, or C1. It’s important to note that our levels correspond mainly with our ability to write in French, because a high emphasis is placed on writing in the French school system. Therefore, even though someone might have a very high level of speaking and understanding, if they struggle with writing, they will be placed in a lower level. For me, the opposite was true. I found that even though some of my friends in the B1 level could communicate in French better than I could, I was placed in the B2 level because my writing was stronger.
The Preliminary Language & Culture Course took place for two weeks Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 12:15 in Sainte Anne, the beautiful historic center of Rennes. The first two hours of class were spent working on language and grammar with the other people in our level. Then after a 15 minute break, we were split into different groups to do an hour of culture. For the grammar class, we had the same teacher each day, who was trained to work at our level, and was very encouraging and understanding. It made for a smoother transition into the French language. Though the class was long, the homework was minimal, and we had two or three quizzes that were graded leniently.
The culture class was a relief after two hours of grammar. For this class we had a different teacher each day and we studied things like French slang, cinema, poetry, francophones, and the history and geography of Brittany, the region in which Rennes is located. After class, we would usually have a few hours off for lunch, and then we’d meet with our program directors, who would talk to us about things like culture shock, proper host family behavior, safety, the French grading system, registering for classes, etc. Those first two weeks were stressful at times, but they were necessary to get us acclimated to our new lives in Rennes. And after the preliminary courses ended, it was time to start classes at the University.