Do I Even Know the Language Here?

Jenna Hughes Headshot
Jenna Hughes
June 3, 2024
looking at a pond with water lilies floating on the surface; various green plants and flowers can be seen around the pond on a bright and sunny day

Salut, mes amis! 


My name is Jenna Hughes and I'm studying away in Paris, France this summer.

So this is for all my language learner peeps. The ones who can have hybrid conversations, the ones who never stop thinking about grammar rules, the ones who feel simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable abroad. 

I decided to study abroad so that I could get real-life experience speaking the language but that is easier said than done! Before coming to France, I never realized how effortlessly I spoke English. The language comes so easily to me when I am in the states, but here? Sometimes I can barely say ‘excusez-moi’ or ‘merci beaucoup.’ 

Not only is living life in another language difficult, but the culture shock is different too. One day I feel like a native because I was able to successfully order a cappuccino and a pain au chocolat and the other day I feel like the biggest outsider because I can’t understand what someone is saying to me at un restaurant. My culture shock has been filled with countless ups and downs, which means that I often wake up not knowing what kind of day today is going to be.

With this being said, life in another language can be fantastically fun if you know how to handle whatever may be thrown your way! 

Here are some tips that have helped me to stay positive and be able to feel successful when speaking another language:


Laugh at yourself: This one might seem like some odd advice, but it is the one that has helped me the most. When speaking another language, you are going to mess up. 

Every. Single. Day.

However, it is easier to laugh at your mistakes, rather than be hard on yourself. For instance, one time I went to a bakery and ordered a box of water. Instead of getting mad at myself, I congratulated myself on knowing the words for water and for box. After that, I reflected on the experience. This means that I was able to learn the correct vocab, have a good laugh and believe me, now I NEVER forget how to order a bottle of water. Now I order it correctly. 

Every. Single. Time.

Cut yourself some slack: Learning a language is tough stuff. Not everyone can do it, so first off you should be proud that you are trying to learn and be vulnerable. Because it is so hard, it means you are gonna mess up and maybe even feel like a failure at times. Just remember: you are not a failure and it will get better. It’s just a little rough patch.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable: Going to study abroad is great, but it isn’t exactly a vacation. There are going to be new things that are absolutely nothing like back home. This doesn’t mean these things are bad, just that they are different. There are going to be a lot of uncomfortable moments where things seem harder or unnatural, but these feelings are normal (and important!) By learning to be comfortable uncomfortable, you will not only feel less anxious day-to-day, but you will also be able to embrace the culture more. And by embracing the culture more, you are more likely to feel less like an outsider and more like you fit-in. Not to mention, that you might find something about this new culture that you really like!

Find YOUR spot: This is your home away from home. When learning another language, sometimes it can feel like you are hiding parts of yourself (not necessarily on purpose). For me, I love to be sarcastic and joke around; however, I haven’t really figured out how to do that in French. This means that sometimes I feel more on-guard and less like myself. By finding your spot, you can diminish some of these feelings. Personally, I love to go to La Boulangerie des Frères Blavette and drink some coffee while doing homework or sit at one of les quais de la Seine across from la tour Eiffel and watch it sparkle. Finding your place takes time but once you find it, you will feel more at home!


With all of this being said, language learning is still hard but it doesn’t always have to feel that way! Make sure you cut yourself some slack and relax a bit. A great work-life balance is very important, especially when studying abroad. Plus, it won’t always be hard. Things do get easier as time goes on, I promise!

Bisous, XOXO

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Jenna Hughes Headshot

Jenna Hughes

My name is Jenna Hughes and I am student at Miami University in Ohio. I have dreamt of going to France since I was 13, so I am excited to go this summer! My favorite things are reading French books, getting coffee with friends and family and my dog.

2024 Summer 1
Home University:
Miami University
Francophone Studies
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