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A Beautiful Language

January 21, 2020

French - no doubt it's a beautiful language! But what are the challenges when you only speak English? Would going to the Language school be the solution? Try checking out some sites that might help you - Couchsurfing and MeetUp. Read more...

 A few weeks ago, I read a post all about the French language and I thought I would share my experiences with the language. I've been an English teacher for over 20 years, so I know exactly how students work. I know the kind of problems they face. I can predict when they're going to have a problem and how to explain it them very clearly.


The English language makes perfect sense to me and even when there are times that it seems like it doesn't make sense, I can shed some light on it and make it easier to understand. At least, I think I can and I hope that my students think I can. I've been doing it a long time, so I imagine that I'm pretty good at it.  


It might surprise you to learn, that I'm actually monolingual and in fact, most of the English teachers I know are also monolingual. This might seem strange and it is certainly something I would never freely admit to a student - “Hello, I only speak one language, I have no idea what you are going through”. This wouldn't be a good or helpful introduction and definitely not the right way to make a good impression. But sadly its true. Most of my English teacher friends have been living in the Middle East for years and years and can't even put a single sentence together.  


It is not entirely our fault, however. I don't want you to think, that we are making excuses, but if you work and make all your money and do all your socializing in English, it makes it remarkably difficult to acquire a new one. But recently, I have tried. It is by no means my first attempt.


I studied German in school and after 6 years, I could just about manage to ask for the bathroom. I tried learning French, with a very attractive teacher. But the moment I figured out he spoke English, we stopped the classes and started dating...... I moved to Spain for 2 years. I took weekly free lessons which we included in my company for all the international employees. I tried a lot at first, but I saw I wasn't making progress, I lost motivation. That's why, I think motivation is so important. Even if, my students make lots of mistakes, I always make them feel like they are progressing so they stay motivated.  


No, I've been in Paris for 4 months and it looks like I'm going to be hear for a while, so I figure I better try and make an effort. It's kind of similar to English. I mean, it's not Russian or Chinese, so that's a big plus. I've also attempted it before, so I thought, maybe some of that will come flooding back to me ( even though that wasn't very much to begin with). I signed up for a school (really similar set-up to the one I work in) and begin weekly morning classes.  


As a teacher, I never had anything to do with the money that students paid. I knew it was a lot but that was all dealt with in the office, not the classroom. Now that I signed up for lesson and saw that the teacher was quite young and not very experienced, I wasn't sure if it was worth my money. It was truly a remarkable experience to be on the other side of the classroom. She was a Parisian teacher so that was a plus.


The major downside was that everyone in the room was a native English speaker. I've spent years telling people, don't go to London to lean English. It's too international, you will just meet people from your own country or people that speak your language and you won't learn as quickly as you would, if you went to a smaller English town. But here I was.  


I was old enough to be everyone's mother, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I couldn't believe all the Americans that had come specifically to Paris, in large groups to learn French. “It's just not going to happen, people”- I wanted to scream from the top of my voice. But I didn't I just took out my pen and followed the lesson. It was very grammar orientated which is quite different from my classes but I suppose it is important to know the grammar. I've just always found it difficult to make it interesting when I teach it.  


I was impressed that I could follow virtually everything the teacher was saying. Of course, I know she was speaking a lot slower than normal. I do that too when I have a class of beginner students. But like every other attempts, about two weeks ago, I gave up.  


The classes are not like my classes. And that might sounds arrogant to say, but I know what I don't like and being almost double the age of everyone else, I felt uncomfortable. Another failed attempt, I thought to myself. All that money, wasted on a fancy school in the middle of the Latin Quarter. I had signed up for one month and I gave it three weeks. And this was the same day that my metro card mysterious stopped working and I had to ask the man why this had happened and if I could have another one. He tried to tell me that my metro card and finished and that I needed to buy a new one. But I knew that wasn't the case. What could have been a simply exchange of two or three sentences turned into a bit of an argument and a delay on my why home. My confidence was knocked even further.  


They say, that the French don't like to speak English but that's not true . The French and Parisians are lovely people and in my opinion when it comes to language, they have a reputation that I simply don't think they deserve. No one would ever refuse to speak a language. They can either speak it or they can't, and it is true that the level of English might shock you a bit. Ok, it's not as bad as people make out – Paris is an international city and (well known fact) it is the number 1 tourist destination in the world.


So, if you're planning on staying in a hotel and seeing the sights for a couple of days, then everything is fine. From the waiter, to the hotel staff, to the tour guide – everyone will speak English and understand you. But if you stay a little bit longer or if you're like me and you actually plan to live here, then yes, you need to learn French. The level of English is not as good as say Berlin, Stockholm or Amsterdam. French is a world language and it's international status is not challenged or under threat based on it's ability to speak English.  


So the moral of the story is that you better start learning. A large part of Parisian daily life will be unavailable to you, if you don't speak this language. And of course, like every other city on the planet, if you some words in the local language and don't immediately just launch into English, they will appreciate it.  


But I digress somewhat on what I wanted to talk about ( a problem that happens in a lot of my classes as well). There is a whole world of people in Paris who want to learn English and if you really want to speak French but you hate classrooms or you're not willing to pay rocket money for classes then try and find a language exchange. I 'm not great with online stuff and I just started blogging and writing blog posts in the last couple of years, so if you're like me, you might not know that such platforms and sites exist. My friend pointed it out to me, when I was just about to lose hope and walk around with a pocket translator.


Couchsurfing.com is the best one in Paris in my opinion. I thought this was simply just a free version of Airbnb and I have heard of it before but I never logged on to it, because frankly it was really my thing. I didn't realize it is also home to thousands of events across the globe. Every day in Paris there are so many different things happening and virtually all of them are free. The energy of couchsurfing is very & “meet and greet” and chilled out, so the people are all really friendly. Ok, I've only been to three meetings but I was sold within the first 20 minutes of my first meeting. I've only been to the language events but there are other events.  


Once people found out, I was an English teacher, all the local people wanted to talk to me to improve their English and once they saw that I was helping them a lot, they switched and started teaching my the basics. I honestly can't praise it enough. And how much does it cost? Nothing, Rein, Nada. And you can drink a nice class of wine and because its in a bar, it's more relaxed.


Another great site is MeetUp. It's much more dynamic and has all kinds of different events. I tried a language exchange on that site and it was great fun. Based on my own personal experience, I preferred couchsurfing because people also wanted to help me and well as speak English but in the MeetUp crowd, I felt myself talking a lot of English and eventually saying (more than once) “ hey can we try a bit of French for 5 or 10 minutes.. you're basically getting a free English class here”.


Of course, it was all friendly and lovely and I'm definitely going to give it another shot. It's just my opinion but so far Couchsurfing is winning. So the real point of this post ( and I totally shouldn't be saying this because I'm an English teacher ) is, forget the expensive classes and do a language exchange. You have nothing to lost because it's completely free and if you click with someone you might save a lot of money and their local so you get a free tour guide included.  


Go and search and learn.