There's no better way to develop one's language skills than to immerese oneself in the culture.

That in mind, for four days in February, a group of 19 Shepaug Valley Middle/High School students from grades 8 through 11 learned French in the most authentic way -- by living the language.

The group traveled to Quebec with teachers Eleni Bookis and Heidi Edel, where the world became the classroom.

The students went to fun and interesting activities during the day, and then, in groups of two or three, stayed with host families at night, Edel said.

The teachers especially enjoyed seeing their students learning French in an authentic context, she said.

"Rather than having the learning process end with the ringing of the bell that marks the end of class, our students were learning all day while having fun," Edel said.

Student Logan Racz agreed.

"You know more French than you think," he said.

The group was based in Quebec City, a popular destination during its Winter Carnival, which features ice sculptures, ice canoe races, giant snowball fights, and local food specialties.

The Shepaug students also visited sites outside the city, including Montmorency Falls (taller than Niagara Falls), a Cabane à Sucre -- a maple sugar farm that also serves a traditional meal and dance as part of the visit, the Ice Hotel and the Civilization Museum.

Students also had a chance to try some winter activities, including dog sledding, snow shoeing and tubing.

Sophomore Clayton Schneider said he particularly liked the tubing at Village Vacances Cartier, a park with many different snow tubing tracks. The tubing turned out to be quite a team-building activity because the students discovered it was more fun to tube in larger groups, Edel said.

Some of the students were initially nervous about staying with host families, but once they saw the warm welcome they were given, it was a very positive experience, Edel said.

"It's not that my French improved immediately, but I gained confidence because of the host family experience," freshman Maddie Gorra said.

The host families were, in turn, pleased with the Shepaug students.

The Shepaug group hopes their peers can benefit from a similar experience next year, Edel said.

"The French Club would like to thank the American Legion of Washington for contributing a scholarship that was divided among students, and the Connecticut Community Fund for providing a grant from the Priscilla S. Whittemore Fund," Edel said.

The students and their faculty chaperones were to make a presentation on their trip to the Region 12 Board of Education on Monday, April 21.