When I was about eleven or twelve years old I went on vacation to France for the first time. I remember my parents sent me to the campsite shop in the morning to get our daily bread. I memorized the sentence “Une flûte s’il vous plaît” and I timidly repeated it at the shop counter. The ladies there would reply in French and I probably shrugged my shoulders, not understanding a word. Even so, I always came back to our caravan with a baguette.
We went on vacation to France a couple more times and I learned a few basic phrases, primarily to tell people that I didn’t speak the language. My brother learned French in school and I was impressed by how difficult it seemed. At that point I wasn’t very interested yet in learning it.
It wasn’t until I was nineteen years old, when I went to do a winter season in France as part of my tourism studies, that I really started to learn the language. I worked for a Dutch company where only Dutch guests were staying. However, living in a French winter sports village you do get exposed to the French language and by the end of the six month-period I spoke a bit of French. That summer I decided to work as a receptionist on a campsite in the Dordogne. I studied a French grammar book for a month and then spent two months there working with mostly French colleagues who really only spoke French. By the end of those two months my French was already near fluent. If speaking another languages becomes a necessity, the learning curve will sky rocket.
The following winter I worked in the French Alps again, but this time in a French restaurant serving mostly French speaking guests. Three years later, when I was studying International Business I did a one-year exchange at a business school in Nice at the French Cote d’Azur. I mostly hung out with international students there, but I chose to do the studies in French. Even though I never had any formal French lesson in my live, I managed to follow all the classes and pass them too. Reading books in French helped me a lot to improve my skills in that period.
Since then I’ve only sporadically used the French language for work and with French people I befriended. I love the French culture and language though and I’m now trying to maintain my French mainly by watching French series and movies.