Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Makenna May ’17

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho • French Language and Literature View Profile

Learning French at Princeton

An introduction to language courses

Many prospective students ask me what it is like to learn a language at Princeton. As a senior in the French department, I have taken a plethora of French courses, so I figured that I could share a bit about my experience for all of the language-lovers out there!

French classes can generally be broken into two types: those in the 100- and 200-level that function as language-learning classes and those in the 300- and 400-level that are more advanced. I’ll explain in more detail…

The 100- and 200-level classes meet three to five times a week for 50 minutes, and the curriculum includes a mix of films, excerpts from novels, discussions about current events. These classes integrate grammar practice with writing and speaking. Then, once you get to the 300-level or higher, classes are structured as lectures around certain topics and are more like Princeton courses in English, just in French! In these classes, we don't focus on grammar instruction or do review exercises, but we all speak in French and read the texts in French, so your language skills at this point are strong enough to handle this without much difficulty. To give you an example, I started at Princeton by taking French 105: "Intermediate French," but now I take courses like French 317: "Visions of Paris" or French 313: "Contemporary French Civilization." In all levels, however, we integrate a variety of books and films into each course, and there are usually two to three essays (of increasing lengths) per semester throughout the different levels.

My French professors here have been amazing. They are a huge reason why I've decided to major in French! They are so supportive, and you really get to know your professors well since the classes are small (usually at about 15 students). One of my favorite professors, Professor Wampole, even brought us French croissants from a bakery shop in Princeton and orange juice on our last day of class last spring. Something that I have really loved about taking French here is that professors are always supportive of your language level and have high but reasonable expectations, and they are very encouraging to students at all levels to participate in class and are aware that we come from different levels in high school. This was something that was really important for me when I was a first-year student, as I had only taken two years of French in high school. After several years of French courses here, my French is nearly fluent, and going abroad really helped, which I know is something that you may be wondering about as well.

Princeton, especially the French department, is so supportive of students studying abroad. I studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland, for a Global Seminar the summer after my first year. It was an incredible experience! The Global Seminar was actually taught in English, but it still benefitted my French to live in a francophone city and to use and read French most of the time outside of class (and to meet French-speaking friends).

Switzerland

One of my favorite memories from my time in Switzerland was going to the Aiguille de Midi with the group - it's the highest peak on Mont Blanc in the Alps!

My Global Seminar was run through the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, but the French department also specifically offers programs abroad. Many of my friends have studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence through Princeton, which is a four-week program that takes place in June and July in southern France with a Princeton professor. The professor is typically Professor Sagnier, who is loved by all! There is also Princeton in France, which is a Princeton-specific program as well that offers students paid jobs and internships in France, and these typically last about eight weeks. And you can study abroad for a semester in France, which is what I did as well. I went abroad for my junior fall and absolutely loved the experience. Majoring in French, it was super easy to transfer credits, and I was able to take a few urban history and cultural politics classes that are counting towards my major requirements here, which is huge. My classes were through the Sorbonne University, and it was a great experience. And, needless to say, I loved Paris.

Versailles

I loved visiting Versailles with my friends Ali and Val while in France.

I hope that this information gives you a better feel for the French department here and what it is like to learn a language at Princeton. Please do not hesitate to reach out via email and let me know if you have any additional or more specific questions.