Interview with David Gemeinhardt, Creator of Versailles Century

Hi David, thank you for accepting my interview request. First of all, can you tell me about yourself? What languages do you speak? What do you like doing in your free time?     
 
Hi, Umut. It’s my pleasure to answer these questions for Tumu Learning. I was born and raised in London, ON, but my parents came here from Germany. Technically, German is my first language since it’s the one I learned when I started talking, but English became my daily language as soon as I started kindergarten. My mother and I still communicate mainly in German, but I consider English to be my native language. I also speak French proficiently. In addition, I have some basic Portuguese, Korean, and Thai. In my free time, I like to walk, read, cook, and watch YouTube and Netflix.
David at Galerie Vivienne
A picture of David in the Galerie Vivienne on his visit to Paris and Versailles in January of this year. 

 

Would you like to tell us about your French language journey? When and where did you start learning French?

    Like most anglophones in Canada, I started learning French at school. When I was a child, French instruction in Ontario public schools started in Grade 5. I took French all the way through to Grade 12, and then majored in French Language & Literature at Western University. Much later, I went back to Western to get an MA in French Studies.

    Learning a language is a commitment; how do you motivate yourself in the long term?

      My motivation has always been my love of French and francophone culture. I became interested in history at an early age, particularly European history, and I soon discovered the major influence that France, its language, and its culture had all over Europe from the 17th to the 20th century. For a long time, the entire educated elite from Madrid to Moscow knew French. My special enthusiasm is 18thcentury French history, which I blog at about at http://versaillescentury.com and the associated  Instagram account, @versaillescentury. 

      Credit: versaillescentury

       

      Have you ever lived in a French-speaking country where you used your French? If yes, how would you describe your experience?

        The longest period of time that I’ve lived in a French-speaking community is 3 months. That was in Trois-Pistoles, QC. For 4 summers in a row, I studied French there while I was in university. It was a homestay situation, which was a great experience. My hosts spoke virtually no English, which meant I really had to make an effort to speak French. I made some embarrassing mistakes, of course, but I learned from them. In the years since then, I’ve visited Paris several times as a tourist. My French has gotten good enough that the Parisians no longer try to switch to English when I address them in their language. That did happen the first time I went, lol.

        What do you think about French education in Ontario? What are the challenges for French Second Language learners?

          I think the main difficulty that many FSL learners face in a city like London is that the situation actually isn’t FSL for them. If they’re not from a francophone family or not at a French-medium school, they’re not likely to come in contact with the language after they step out of the classroom (or log off the Zoom call) where they take their French classes. It’s really a foreign language for them, not a second language. The issue, then, is getting French input outside of the classroom. My advice for people who are serious about mastering the language is to seek out French-language content about things that interest them and that they would otherwise consume content about in English (or whatever their main language is). I mentioned above that history is my passion, so I’ve always sought out videos and publications in French that relate to my interest. Because I’m so interested, I’m really motivated to try and understand what I’m seeing/hearing/reading. If you’re a foodie, for instance, watch cooking videos in French or order yourself a French-language cookbook. If you’re into hip-hop, search for videos by francophone hip-hop artists on YouTube and google their lyrics. Whatever your interests are, you can find content out there that will allow you to engage with them through the medium of French. Learning is more fun that way, and you’re more likely to stick with it.

          What are the tips you could give to other French language learners?

            I will repeat 2 tips that my 1st-year French prof gave us, and that really worked for me. First, listen to the news in French on Radio-Canada once a day, just one of the short segments that comes on every hour. In the beginning, I didn’t understand much, but after a while doing it every day consistently, I started to understand more and more. Second, wean yourself off the translation dictionary. It’s painful, at first, but using a French-French dictionary will teach you things that using an English-French dictionary will not. You can use both, of course, but a lot of people never move beyond using just the English-French one. Ultimately, you need to start using French to learn more French instead of using English to learn more French.

            Thank you!

             

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