InterExchange Working Abroad Ambassador Sarah, Teach English France:
TIP #1: BECOME A TUTEE
We all face obstacles to achieving our dreams. When my cousin was just a wee little man, I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. "A cobra!" he exclaimed. Not one to miss an opportunity to crush the dreams of starry-eyed children, I explained, "Buddy, I'm not sure that you can be a cobra." After mulling over this sudden blow, he calmly replied, "Yeah. Well, maybe just a little snake then."
When I decided that I would move to France for 3 months, I, too, faced obstacles (not quite as large as morphing into a snake, but worrisome all the same), the most daunting of which was the language. As a high school student in southwest Missour-uh, becoming a tutor in France was never really a part of my "grand life plan." Learning French seemed irrelevant, so I devoted myself to Spanish. In case you were wondering, having a working knowledge of Spanish really isn't all that helpful when faced with French pronunciation. While I was lucky enough to find a host family that wanted me to speak only English, I was wholly unprepared for interacting with people outside the walls of my house. So, while I didn't let my French language ignorance hold me back from coming to France, I also didn't hold back my host mom from contacting a local French tutor on my behalf.
I now attend French classes twice a week with four au pairs living in Maisons-Laffitte. My first day was petrifying. Before even taking my seat, I was handed a sheet of paper that was full of, well…French. The instructor asked me to read it out loud. She asked in French, so it took a couple of repetitions and nervous laughs for me to understand what she was wanting. When I finally attempted the task set before me, it wasn't pretty. To call it the verbal equivalent of a newborn calf learning to walk would be a blush-worthy compliment. Yet, public humiliation and heart palpitations aside, this class has become a welcome addition to my schedule. My turtleneck-wearing teacher is a patient soul and a great source of local knowledge, and my classmates and I have bonded over our shared pronunciation puzzlement.
If you are planning to spend an extended period in France but don't plan to attend a university for language classes, ask around or visit your town's tourism office to find a local tutor. Don't let the language be an obstacle. You may not be able to become a cobra, but I'm confident you can learn a language.
For proof that my French classes are actually paying off (at least in the area of self-importance), read on. You will perhaps be unimpressed by my caveman-like sentence structure, but keep in mind that before this trip, I didn't know enough French to tell you in French that I didn't speak French.
Remark de Triomphe #1
While on the train headed back from Paris last week, I noticed a wallet lying on the floor and picked it up before heading out the door. On my way to the ticket booth, I looked up the French word for "find" and worked on forming a semi-coherent, conjugated sentence.
All of a sudden, there I was, facing a very unenthused man behind bulletproof glass. He raised his eyebrows and waited. "Bonjour. Je trouve dans train" (translation: "Hello. I find in train"—I never said it would be poetry, folks). Still silent, he got out of his seat, exited the booth, and took the wallet from my nervous grasp before returning to his stool of seclusion. VICTORY. You're welcome, France.
Remark de Triomphe #2
Last week, I visited the lovely Le Grande Epicerie in Paris. It is well stocked with culinary yum yums from all over France and even has a United States section that boasts A1 steak sauce and s'mores-worthy marshmallows. Best of all, Le Grande Epicerie offers samples of aforementioned yum yums. In other words, it's just the sort of place where I would like to live.
While attempting to nonchalantly stroll up to a chocolate sampling table, pretending to be interested in other products along the way when I definitely was not, I came upon a conversation between an American visitor and the woman handing out the prized pieces of candy. "Where are the chocolate spoons?" the first asked. No response. "Chocolate spoons?" she repeated, a little louder and slower this time, opening her eyes alarmingly wide for emphasis. The baffled look remained, so I swooped in, "Cuillere chocolat?" Problem solved. Knowing that the American woman was able to get the chocolate spoons she so desperately needed was all the thanks this hero needed. Well, that, and the chocolate sample.
Learn more about teaching English, volunteering, becoming an au pair abroad and working abroad on the InterEchange Working Abroad website!