Bonjour. Comment ça va? : French 4 Pen Pals

Posted on: March 8th, 2014 by Jennifer Boulanger

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“Bonjour. Comment ça va?”

“Ça va bien, et toi?”

“Je vais très bien. Merci!”

Every French scholar learns some variation of this basic conversational greeting during their introduction to the language. But there is a big difference between simply writing these phrases as answers on a test and speaking them to a real-life French native.

For several months, Ms. Honig’s French 4 classes have been doing just that. We have a partnership with a high school in southern France, specifically English classes within that school. Each of us was paired up with a student from those classes by Ms. Honig and their English teacher near the beginning of the school year based on our traits and interests. Since then, we have all maintained Google documents with our pen pals, exchanging regular messages so that we practice our French and they practice their English. This conversation has included messages about ourselves to get to know one another, as well as assignments from class so that we can correct each others writing. We also use other technologies to communicate. A website called Voicethread has allowed us to practice speaking French by sending voice memos over the internet to each other. Every so often, we have a Skype day in class where we each have a short conversation with our pen pal using the Promethean board—they talking in English and us in French. We even went snail-mail over winter break and sent their class letters to give them a taste of the American greeting card phenomenon.

This correspondence isn’t always a seamless exchange. As stated before, it can be stressful at times to communicate with a person in their native tongue, which you are just learning. However, the benefits vastly outweigh the cons. It is rewarding to practice French the way a native speaks it, instead of just the textbook version of the language, and to know that you are helping your pen pal’s English in the same way. (This will hopefully help us in not standing out as a tourist spouting Americanized-French during possible future trips to France!) It is interesting to notice cultural similarities and differences between my pen pal and me, like the fact that she and I see many of the same movies in theaters, yet she attends a boarding school, and their cafeteria is staffed by cooks in tall white stereotypical chef hats, as seen in pictures of her school building we swapped.

I am now Facebook friends with my pen pal, and I know several of my classmates have connected with theirs over social media as well. It is amazing to get to know people personally who live across the ocean from ourselves, and to have this exchange help our French too. Technology, with the help of our teachers, has allowed for this to happen—an experience that could never have taken place ten or twenty years ago, but that we benefit from today.