Posts Tagged ‘French immersion’

This post has been inspired by the fact that I can barely see the duvet on my bed beneath the piles of paper, cut-outs, English books with accompanying CDs, markers, and lists I use to prepare lessons. If someone were to come into the apartment right now, they’d probably think I had lost my adult memory and turned back into a kid with all the strange animal noises and sing-a-long songs coming from my room. But there is a reason for the chaos: I am preparing private lessons for 4-year olds. Don’t worry – my room isn’t this messy on a daily basis. When lesson-planning for my normal classes (junior-high and high school), there aren’t quite as many songs or cut-outs involved since they can read and least say at least basic vocabulary.

Teaching the wee ones is definitely the most challenging out of all the age groups, namely because I have to do much more prep-work. I have to speak mostly in French (with carefully inserted English vocabulary), and keep their attention for 45 minutes (which means changing the task, song, or game every 5-10 minutes. It’s kind of exhausting, especially on the days when they’re particularly rambunctious and I end up resorting to some kind of physical activity (like a song with lots of hand movements) to wear them out a bit. But I must admit that it’s so adorable to hear them sing English songs and say English words with their little French accents.

Teaching college (with an accent grave over the 1st “e”) is a bit less of a workout, but it can also be fun. Today we discussed monsters and played a game where I called out a body part (ex. head), and everyone had to draw one, two, three, etc. heads on their piece of paper. Then when I said “Change,” they gave their paper to the student next to them, and I called out another body part. By the end of the class everyone had contributed something to everyone else’s monster, they had quite creative (and scary) drawings to take home, they learned some new vocabulary words (horns, wings, spikes, etc.), AND they had fun doing it.

But among all the age groups I have taught (also taught adults ESL two summers ago in Baton Rouge), I must say that the high school level is definitely my favorite. At this level (and at least, at my school), they know just enough English so that you can get into some pretty fun discussions and debates, but still play games and occasionally sing songs (or at least listen to them if they don’t want to sing). It also helps that I am not too far removed from high school myself so I can relate and give relatively current examples of how those tough teenage years are in the US. And things that are traditionally part of French culture but not American, or vice versa – like much longer school days in France – I am able to learn about first-hand. I have picked up more French vocabulary from the college kids (often times it’s me talking in English and them replying in French), but the high school is where I learn the most about French life.

This role as an assistant is interesting because I really am two things at once. Just about every teacher will tell you they learn from their students, but in my position, I am ALWAYS learning: vocabulary, traditions, culture, food, games, you name it. And I like this role a lot.

They say that those who continue learning have better memories and live longer. Well I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that some of the oldest and most interesting people I know are still students in their ripe old age. Let’s hope that in 50-60 years, I become one of them too.


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To Americans, the French are not exactly known as the friendliest of peoples (at least not in France), but I find it quite amusing that the same people who will most likely not smile at strangers passing on the street or strike up a conversation with a random person for no apparent reason are more than cheerful to pass along a smiley “Bon appetit!” each time they see me wandering around town with food in my hands.

I don’t do it often (wander around eating, unless I buy a French bread sandwich from a street-side vendor during lunch time in the city center, or a gelato ice cream cone), but every time – usually when I’m halfway through my next bite of an apple or some other awkward position – I hear this phrase. Tonight it even happened when Lynsey and I were walking back to our apartment with a big take-out pizza box. A lady just came out of nowhere and chimmed, “Bon appetit!” as we crossed the street.

The rest of the way home we¬† marveled at this surprising act and wondered what the Irish/American equivalent would be – that is if Irish or American people even did such a thing (and in my 23 years I have never encountered such an event in the US or any other country for that matter). Our conclusion: there isn’t one! We just don’t have a phrase that sums up “Good eating!” without sounding as silly as “Good eating!” unless you’re a waiter hoping to get a big tip from your customers. The closest thing I can think of is “Enjoy!” or “Dig in!” but neither of those sound quite right either. I suppose it’s just another of France’s many cultural mysteries that will always remain a mystery. But that’s okay. I enjoy a good intrigue.

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Guess what returned to the Haute Savoie last weekend? Cold weather and SNOW! ūüė¶ On Saturday my roommate and I watched in disbelief as the white stuff fell lightly outside our appartment’s picture window. Thankfully it wasn’t enough to stick, but the temperature is still hovering around¬†0 degrees Celcius, and a chilling wind has arrived.

Earlier that same day, Lynsey and I¬†tried to go to Chambery, but thanks to a little mishap with the train (our fault – we read the board wrong), we ended up just staying in Annecy and doing a bit of shopping. It turned out to be quite a fun day, though all the things we bought are for warmer weather…

Later on in the evening we attended a Senegalese dinner put on by an international club here in town. The food was delicious and we were treated to African drumming for dessert! Spoke lots of French with real French people!

After church on Sunday, we took a train to Aix-les-Bains to visit the famous Hautecombe Abbey. We ended up riding straight into a


sizable snowfall, walking almost all the way to the Grand Port to catch the boat that would take us across the lake to the Abbey, and then realizing that our extra-long power walk had been in vain (we still had a long way to go when the boat’s departure time passed and there’s only one sailing a day, three days a week – it’s not quite high tourist season yet). At least he snow finally stopped falling by the time we reached the lake, so we snapped a few photos and stopped at the McD’s on the way back to warm up.

At McDonald’s I was the first to order and chose a large coffee just to warm up my bones a bit. But to my surprise, the guy behind the counter handed me my coffee along with a bouquet of yellow lillies! I wasn’t sure what to say or think, so I just said, “Merci,” and walked away from the counter to find a table. Everyone was staring at me (no one else had recieved flowers), so I wasn’t sure if I had been the hundreth customer, the butt of a practical joke, or if I had just met THE most forward Frenchman ever. lol. After spending the next 20 minutes still quite puzzled and trying to avoid awkward stares from the other customers, we noticed another woman walk to a table with a bouquet. “What is going on?” we all wondered. Two days later I am still not sure, but I do know that fresh flowers look quite nice in my room!

After McDonald’s Lynsey discovered she had lost her phone, so we backtracked all over the place and even listened in the garbage can at McD’s to see if we could hear it ring. Unfortunately it seems to be lost for good.

Thankfully we had better weather the next day on our day-trip to Chambery. The sun was shining brightly which made the chill more bearable. It was a relaxing visit – we just wandered around, got pizza for lunch and visited the local museum which showcased the history of the area. This year is the 150th anniversary of the Savoie

Chambery Old Town

region joining the rest of France, so it was nice to see a few special exhibits as well. The teachers tell me I’m doing well on my quest to explore the region and that I seem to have covered all the bases. Now to explore the rest of France! Did I mention how much I love European train travel??? ūüôā

French cities I’ve visited so far:

Paris, Nice, St. Paul de Vence, Annecy and the villages surrounding the lake  (Talloires, etc.) , Grenoble, Chamonix, Albertville, Lyon, Aix-les-Bains, Chambery, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Avignon, Montpellier, Arles, Ales, Nimes, Toulouse, Carcassonne, Lourdes, Albi, and many more to go!

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Punxsutawney obviously has been in his hole for a few too many years because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about! Today is a whopping 6 degrees C in Annecy (a.k.a. it actually feels warm) and the snow has almost completely melted in town. Heck, I even opened the shutters on my bedroom window, which I haven’t done since the beginning of December (I have to open the window and let lots of cold air in to get to the shutters on the outside).

It’s so nice to have natural light in my room again!

On another note, it’s time for me to get down to business with my French homework. Last night we practiced the oral section of the DELF exam (this test certifies your knowledge of French – I’m practicing for the intermediate levels B1 and B2), and I realized just how much work I’m going to have to do to even hope to pass the B2 in March. It’s frustrating because I’m in a bit of limbo land between the two (there’s unfortunately a huge gap), so I’m going into overdrive to try and catch up.

For the B1 oral exam you are given a paragraph or several paragraphs and you have to talk for 3-4 minutes on the theme of the document, your opinion, and argument with an example, and wrap it up in a conclusion. They give you 10 minutes to prepare, but you’re not allowed to look at your scratch paper once you begin speaking. Doesn’t sound too difficult, right?

Then there’s the B2 oral section which consists of a much longer document with more complicated vocabulary. You are given 30 minutes to prepare for your 10 minutes of speaking time. That’s right, the goal for this level is to speak for 10 whole minutes on a topic you’ve only just learned about! This would be fine in¬† my native tongue – just like speech and debate –¬† but try presenting a well-thought-out, grammatically correct speech on a sometimes foreign topic in a foreign language for that length of time.

Our teacher is doing his best to give us the tools necessary to succeed, but it still seems daunting. The standard structure of the speech helps a bit, but it doesn’t make finding the words you want to say any easier:

  1. Find the general theme
  2. State the problem(s) in the form of question(s)
  3. Make a related generalization- i.e. something related to the topic and problems in regards to French society/culture
  4. State your opinion and present three arguments (each of which needs at least one example to back it up)
  5. Finally, state your conclusion and wrap it up.

Last night was my first time attempting this longer version of the exam, and boy did I feel like a bumbling idiot. I did manage to talk for about 7 minutes though (good for the first time), and it seems my critique was worse than my teacher’s. He said my speaking pace was¬†fine (it’s important to speak fluidly for this level), and that I did a good job of presenting all of the sections except for the problem/question area (just need to make it a bit clearer next time). He corrected my grammar mistakes (I’m proud to say that I noticed a few of them myself before he even pointed them out – this is a huge part of learning), and we learned more transition words and phrases to identify the sections of our argument¬† (“Selon moi,” “Il faut que,” “En conclusion”).

All-in-all, I’m extremely glad I decided to fork over the money for this CILFA course. I’m learning a lot, and it’s also giving me the push I need to keep going even when I’m not in class. It’s not always easy, but life’s all about challenges anyway, right?

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Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time to type tonight (busy putting the finishing touches on a Mardi Gras lesson – complete with a Second Line dance demonstration! – for my coll√®ge students tomorrow), but I wanted to tell you about today. In the U.S., it’s Groundhog Day, where the groundhog comes out of his hole and hopefully does not see his shadow. If he does, he “gets scared” and crawls back in, meaning 6 more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, spring is soon on it’s way!

The name “Groundhog Day” is not well-known in France, but, like the French “galette du rois” and the New Orleans “king cake,” there is a tradition that is very similar. Today is the Catholic holiday of Candlemas, a “feast to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of baby Jesus.” (About.com) The French call today la Chandeleur, F√™te de la Lumi√®re (not to be confused with Lyon’s F√™te de la Lumi√®re celebration – they’re different) or jour des cr√™pes.

So in the tradition of trying out traditions, Lynsey and I made cr√™pes this evening. I’m not sure how hers turned out (I had class this evening so she made hers and just saved some batter for me), but mine were quite yummy, and I even managed to pull off a fabulous cr√™pe flip into the air and back in the pan (first time!) with my left (non-writing) hand while holding a coin in the other. According to tradition, this means that my family will be prosperous for the rest of the year. Let’s hope it works!

Listed below are a few “Chandeleur” (Candlemas) sayings (again thanks to About.com). I’m not sure if the American groundhog saw his shadow today, but there’s a bit of snow on the ground in Annecy right now so I guess that doesn’t bode well for a quick spring. Oh well. One can dream, right? lol

√Ä la Chandeleur, l’hiver cesse ou reprend vigueur
On Candlemas, winter ends or strengthens

√Ä la Chandeleur, le jour cro√ģt de deux heures
On Candlemas, the day grows by two hours

Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte
Candlemas covered (in snow), forty days lost

Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa dernière heure
Dew on Candlemas, winter at its final hour

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Another week has gone by and that means today officially marks the half-way point of my time in Europe! It also means I am more than half-way done with my assistantship (I finish teaching at the end of April). It is incredible that time has passed by so quickly – it seems just one month ago I was cavorting around Switzerland on a weekend whims, trying to figure out all my paperwork and still getting to know all of the other assistants in Annecy. But no, tomorrow is February 1st, and the days aren’t moving any slower.

Things have been pretty busy for me lately. I wrote another article for the newspaper about keeping in touch

Contemplating Beauty - Lake Lugano, Switzerland

long-distance (I think it’s still online if you want to check it out – http://ponchatoula.com/ptimes/),¬† and am wrapping up a story for the magazine about Annecy and it’s quest for the 2018 Olympics (which will hopefully be published in the March issue). But in the spirit of “live life to the fullest,” I decided to fork over some time (and money) to attend a cultural event this weekend – an evening at the Lyon Opera. On Saturday evening I boarded a bus at the lycee with a bunch of other teachers and wondered what was in store during the two-hour journey. As a music minor in college, I’ve studied and have been to my fair share of operas – not all of them interesting. But I am happy to say that the music in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” was mesmorizing – sung in Italian with French subtitles (which I understood for the most part). The costumes were also beautiful, and it put us in such a good mood that¬† we didn’t even mind our horrible seats (we were practically on the side of the stage and had to lean over in our seats to see what was happening in the up-stage, right-hand corner).

Speaking of singing, choir is still going well. I’m really glad I joined – it’s so convenient (right next to my apartment), and I get to sing + have a free French pronunciation lesson each week. I’m also enjoying learning all of the mass parts in French – it changes things up a bit – and the director asked me to lead the agnus dei at mass yesterday. Even this tiny bit of cantoring makes me feel good – a bit more like I’m back at home ūüôā

On a more serious note, I took a full stock of my revenues/expenses for the month of January (haha, yes I’ve become slightly obsessive about finances – I actually enjoy making spreadsheets…) and am happy to say that even though the time period included all normal expenses, the tail end of my Christmas trip (starting in Chamonix and coming back to

Sporting my new faux-leather jacket from the "soldes"

Annecy), a weekend trip to Besancon, 2 ski day forfaits + equipment rental, the purchase of 2nd-hand ski boots + helmet and goggles, the evening trip to the opera in Lyon (opera tickets + bus), and a well-worth it last minute trip to the January “soldes” (“sales” in English), I still managed to spend only 140 euros more than I earned for the month!

You may not think that’s a good thing, but don’t worry. I’ve got it covered. lol. For comparison purposes (and anyone considering being an assistant), my monthly take-home pay from the assistantship is only about 800 euros (after social security is taken out), so I strongly advise coming to France with a little cushion of cash saved from previous jobs so you don’t get stressed out over money issues. And always watch what you spend!

Note: This month also included my CAF refund from November and December’s rent. This miracle check allowed for a little extra spending leeway!

Finally, the countdown to my real-life re-enactment of the opening scene of “Love Actually” : 12 days. I love the entire movie but this scene is one of my favorites – think airport – reuniting – hugs and happy tears. I’ve never been so excited for Valentine’s Day!

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I just received great news about the CAF: I finally received it! lol. Yay for housing rebates ūüôā But, surprise, surprise. Along with the good news they sent me a separate letter asking for MORE PAPERWORK. Ha. It never ends…

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