Who Gon' Check Her Boo?! How Donna Ignored French Naysayers And Did Her Thing

Meet Donna, a globetrotting language enthusiast with a passion for sustainability and veganism. Donna's living an incredibly adventurous life, moving alone to Slovakia in 2013 and later to Austria in 2022 and navigating life as a solo traveler in Europe. With a background in International Development, Donna is committed to contributing to a sustainable future for generations to come. However, it is her language learning journey that truly inspires. Despite feeling discouraged by French native speakers' negative reactions to her accent, Donna persevered, even volunteering in Benin to practice her French. In this blog, we'll dive into Donna's experiences as a solo traveler in Europe and how she overcame obstacles in her language learning journey. 

BGLL: Thank you so much for sharing your language learning journey with us. Tell us about yourself.

Donna: My name is Donna York and I'm an Atlanta born Nigerian currently living in Salzburg, Austria. My native language is English. I'm currently a specialist at Aldi Süd and have a B.A. in International Studies and French Language at Georgia Southern University as well as a M.A. International Policy and Development at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. I cannot imagine a life where I don’t try to contribute to the environment for our future generations. 

I’m also a vegan blogger. I find vegan restaurants in Austria and Europe and rate dishes on my instagram @vegan_foods_salzburg

BGLLWhat was your proudest accomplishment so far?

DonnaI was able to get a visa for Austria because the work permit requirements were based on skills which included the German language skills I developed. I was a volunteer for the Peace Corps in Benin where I could use the French I learned in school to navigate living in a West African country. 

BGLLWhat languages do you speak? What made you want to learn them?

DonnaI speak French, German and Korean and am currently focused on keeping up with those. I studied Arabic and Turkish for several months but after years of not using it, I could not retain it. I learned Korean mostly by watching series with Korean subtitles and memorizing songs. Korean was fun to learn because I also enjoyed the music.

For German, I wanted to learn German and live in a country that speaks German because it’s a language I always tried to learn but got easily intimidated by it. Now I am in love with the language. It's my favorite to learn because I can easily retain new words and practice what I learned. Making mistakes is common in German so I’m not so shy to speak and make many mistakes so my language learning is faster in German than the other languages. 

BGLLWhat has been your biggest challenge with language learning so far?

Donna: I felt shy to speak French. French speakers are not always the nicest and it made me feel shy to be ridiculed for mispronouncing a word wrong. But after living in many different francophone countries I’ve learned to be proud of my accent and knowledge of French accents (Switzerland, France, and Benin) Whatever resources I could find, I used. I especially love YouTube--I live on that platform.

Making Mistakes seemed very frowned upon, especially when I learned French. After a while, I realized that I needed to focus more on practicing speaking, because that is how I retain information and learn. 

BGLLWhat were some of the things the natives did that intimidated you?

DonnaSwitching to English. I think switching to English is the most ineffective and rude thing most people have done. I speak and respond back in French and they switch to English. And most of the time they struggle with their English translation and when they can’t find a word in English, I translate the word for them. I knew my French accent was terrible because I spent most of my time studying French grammar and using textbooks for learning. Because most French native speakers speak French to me, most of the time, I hung out with other foreigners from the UK, Australia, or Germany. 

BGLL: What did you do to overcome the pushback you were experiencing with natives?

Donna: The most effective thing was to find other French learners due to the fact that French speakers did not want to speak French with me. I also used to have a private online tutor (mainly to reach confidence levels to speak publicly). Online platforms like Italki provide affordable tutors for as low as 10 euros an hour. 

BGLL: If you could offer tips for someone learning another language who might feel shy about speaking, what would they be?

DonnaDonna The main thing is to know if you are shy, shyness is not a shameful thing and you should not try to force yourself to be someone different. You can find different ways to express yourself, join clubs and explore hobbies that will make language learning fun. Being in a traditional classroom setting never encouraged me to speak up, but finding friends with similar goals and focusing on making my lifestyle immersed in the language was best for me.  

If I were to do it again, I would have a intensive class for 1-6 months (2-4 hours of classroom study 5-6 days a week) and spend the rest of the year focusing on speaking 100 percent of my target language by working, volunteering, joining a club, and of course moving to the target country. I would focus on real life situations and spend my time with 1:1 tutors to focus on speaking more.  

BGLL:  How can we keep up with you on social (social media)?

DonnaYou can find me on Instagram @dyork09.
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