Expat Exhaustion: All Grèved Out and All Franced Out

By   October 15, 2010

Perhaps you heard that there was a strike this past Tuesday in France against the pension reforms. Perhaps you heard it was the 5th one this year, and another one is already scheduled for next Tuesday. Perhaps you heard that the government has already passed the reforms anyway. Even though most people protesting only took Tuesday off, the transportation strikes continue with limited trains throughout the week, and now high schoolers in many cities, including Chambéry, are blocading their schools and getting into trouble with the police. For the past two days, I have heard nothing but siren after siren as police cars leave the station (only 500 feet from us, oh joy) to head downtown. High schoolers started setting things on fire in front of their schools and throwing stones at the police, who responded by tear gassing the teenagers. This morning the students marched over to the train station and disrupted the traffic by staying on the tracks, where the police tear gassed them again.

I understand why the teenagers are mad and feel the need to protest like everyone else. Young people in this country already had a bleak outlook for their futures before this reform (unemployment is over 20%), and now it keeps getting worse. I don’t necessarily think that setting things on fire in the street is going to change the unemployment problem, however. Yet the reaction by the police seems a bit excessive to me too. Shooting tear gas into a school, chasing students just to hit them with their clubs, and threatening people who film everything make me sick.

In addition to the public transportation strikes, there are also reports of blocades at the rafineries and possible gas shortages. Luckily I don’t have to go anywhere and David can walk to work so we’re not affected by it. I feel really bad for the tourists who are stuck throughout France or at the airports in Paris. Strikes may be a big part of French culture, but I’m sure it’s not the “culture” they were looking forward to experiencing.

Yet it’s not just the strikes that are making me so tired of being in France or being an expat in France. It’s all the little things that add up to one big thing: frustration. Whether simply trying to open a bank account (took 6 weeks!), renew a residency card (took 9 months!), update important personal information on any French website (all of them are just horrible, awful trash), buy groceries on a Saturday, or do anything at all on a Sunday – everything feels like a huge obstacle to overcome in order to accomplish the most mundane tasks. And after four years, the inefficiency and lack of convenience really starts to get to you. But my biggest concerns have more to do with working and immigration, which are obviously the most important aspects to me as a non-tourist foreigner in France.

The cost of living and taxes continue to increase, yet salaries stay the same. We had to pay 1,555€ in income tax in September (it’s not a pay-as-you-earn system so you just have to keep saving money all year long), and then another 736€ in October for the taxe d’habitation (renter’s tax), of which 121€ was for owning a TV. The cost to renew my residency card each year is 110€, and in fact it used to be 70€. It costs more each year to own a TV in France that it does to have the right to work! Granted, I don’t mind paying higher taxes for health insurance, unemployment and retirement benefits, but when too many people start thinking they can slack off and let the government take care of them because of the high taxes they pay, then obviously it becomes a problem. On the other hand, paying lower taxes but having no government help at all is not ideal either.

I find it harder and harder to justify living in a country where 1,500€ per month/18,000€ per year is a normal or even good salary for someone with a Master’s degree. (The average income in the US for someone with an M.A. is about $40,000.) For as educated and experienced as I am, I feel like I’m worth a little bit more than the 1,200€ a month I got as a lectrice, which turned into about 13,500€ for the year after paying taxes. I’ve always been annoyed by the restrictive concept of needing a métier in France and no one caring if you have experience – all that matters is that you have a very specific degree for a very specific job and if you don’t like it, too bad. You’re stuck there for your entire life. No wonder this country’s youth is so pessimistic.

I also find it harder and harder to stay in a country that treats French citizens of foreign backgrounds differently and openly calls immigrants criminals. The new measure adopted by l’Assemblée states that any immigrant who kills a policeman will have his French nationality stripped from him – and it also makes it easier to expel Gypsies from France by allowing the expulsion of any EU citizen found guilty of “repeated acts of theft, aggressive begging and illegally occupying land.” Another part of the law limits access to medical care for foreigners who do not have a valid residency card. All this in the country of les droits de l’homme – or perhaps it should be changed to les droits des français nés en France.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t absolutely hate living in France or else I wouldn’t be here, and France is still winning in my USA vs. France battle (but only by a hair). But everyday it gets harder to stay happy here knowing that life is much better in other countries, where I can have a real career. I didn’t spend six years at university just to earn minimum wage in temporary jobs. I have no desire to return to the US but I also have no desire to stay in France for much longer. I love the French language and all Francophone cultures, but I feel like I need to break up with France before this frustration gets the best of me. Luckily David agrees that things are not good in France right now and wants to live abroad too, so to all of you who are thinking “if she doesn’t like it, why doesn’t she just leave” – don’t worry, I’m working on it.

But I wonder how much of this frustration is due to being an expat in a foreign country (or perhaps just France) and how much of it is just thinking that everything is better where I am not?

Il me semble que je serais toujours bien là où je ne suis pas, et cette question de déménagement en est une que je discute sans cesse avec mon âme.

– Baudelaire

English Language Teaching Assistantship in France for 2011-2012 School Year

By   October 14, 2010

If you would like to teach English in the public school system in France or the DOM-TOMs as an assistant for the 2011-2012 school year (October 1, 2011 to either April 30, 2012 or June 30, 2012) , use the links below to find out the specific requirements and application process for your country. In general, you must be a native English speaker, have finished two years of university & be less than 30 years old by October 1, 2011, and speak French at an intermediate level.

Assistants work 12 hours a week and are paid 780€ a month (after social security is taken out), with paid vacations in October, December, February, and April. There are two contract lengths (7 or 9 months) and two levels (primary or secondary – though only the primary level has 9 month positions.) For the majority of countries, assistants can be assigned to mainland France + Corsica and the overseas départements of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guyane and La Réunion. Assistants working in Corsica and the overseas départements have a slightly higher salary to compensate for the higher cost of living. Australia and New Zealand also send assistants to New Caledonia, but the school year is between March 15 and October 15 so the application process is different.

You can read through my Guide for English Language Assistants in France for more detailed information and my personal experience as an assistant, as well as download all of the ESL lesson plans I created for my classes. If you have questions about the program, search the Assistants in France forums where many past assistants such as myself (I’m the moderator) help out the new and hopeful assistants.

Most applications become available in October, and the deadlines range from December to March. You should be notified between April and June if you have been accepted.  Most countries require you to go to the French embassy/consulate to get your visa before leaving for France, so make sure you take that into account because it could be very far from where you live. All Australians must go to Sydney and all NZers must go to Wellington, for example.


Links to each country’s French embassy page on the assistant program and the approximate number of positions available:

  • USA : 1,500 (last year 2,300 people applied*)

Application available as of October 11. Deadline is January 1, 2011. As of this year, dual French-American citizens are no longer allowed to apply.

Application will be available soon. Deadline is March 1, 2011.

Application will be available soon.

Application will be available soon. Deadline will be around March 24, 2011.

Application available now. Deadline is December 11, 2010.

Application available now. Deadline is January 22, 2011.

Application available now. Deadline is December 15, 2010.

Application available now. Deadline is January 11, 2011.

Citizens of South AfricaTrinidad & Tobago, and Barbados are also eligible, but I could not find any pages on the assistantship program on the embassy websites. The official CIEP site has applications for these countries, but the deadline dates are not specified.

*Acceptance criteria from the Teaching Assistant Program in France – USA Facebook page:

“Last year we had around 2,300 applications for approximately 1,500 spots. We evaluate applications based on a number of criteria (including French-language skills, experience teaching or working with children or young adults, experience living abroad, level of university studies, etc.) and then rank the applications. The top 1,500 applicants are offered positions in early April. Those applicants who do not make the top 1,500, but still meet the program’s basic eligibility requirements, are placed on a waiting list for spots that open up over the course of the summer due to withdrawals.”

Losing my Native Pronunciation: The Case of ArchipeLAgo or ArchiPELago

By   October 10, 2010

I’ve been contributing to RhinoSpike lately by recording myself reading texts in English for other language learners to use in their independent studies. This weekend, however,  I could not remember how to correctly pronounce a few words in my native language. I still use English often in my day to day life, but it’s mostly in written form. Obviously I don’t speak English as nearly as much as I used to when I lived in the US. So when I came across certain words in the texts, I was stumped on how to say them because I had momentarily confused the British pronunciation with the American one (herbivore), or was influenced by the pronunciation of the same word in French (recompense). But when it came to archipelago, I was completely lost.

I thought that archipelago was pronounced with the stress on the penultimate syllable (ar-kih-puh-LAH-go), but all the dictionary and pronunciation sites I’ve consulted say it is pronounced with the stress on the antepenultimate syllable (ar-kih-PEL-uh-go).  The way I pronounce it doesn’t sound 100% correct to me to be honest, but the other pronunciation sounds a million times wrong. So so wrong. As in it hurts my ears to hear it pronounced that way.

Even the British pronunciation has the same stress pattern (ar-kih-PEL-uh-go), and the French word is simply archipel (ar-shee-pel), so why in the world do I think the stress should be on the penultimate syllable in American English? Maybe it’s merely a case of never using this word very much so I’ve forgotten how I used to say it, or perhaps it is a regional thing and some other Americans or Michiganders pronounce it the way I do?

For the love of science, how do you pronounce archipelago?!?

In my classes, whenever students asked which phrase was correct (for example, keep in touch or keep me in touch), normally I could instantly reply which one was correct, and every once in a while I just had to repeat the phrases to myself to discover which one sounded right. Yet in the case of archipelago, I’m not quite sure which one sounds right – it’s just that one sounds more right than the other, but I’m not convinced that either pronunciation is “correct.”  Is it the British influence? I’m definitely pronouncing a few vowels differently nowadays, but I have yet to change the stress (no way I will ever say adVERtisement instead of adverTISEment.) Perhaps I’m just assuming the American stress should be different.

It’s very frustrating to doubt yourself  in your native language. A study from 2007 (Why Learning a New Language May Make You Forget Your Old One) touches on this phenomenon of forgetting words, but states that it mostly happens in the beginning stages of language study and it refers to not being able to recall the word. In my case, I do remember the word, and the spelling and the meaning, but I do not remember the pronunciation.

Are there any other Americans out there who say ar-kih-puh-LAH-go or am I really just forgetting my own native language?

Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning Online and Teaching (MERLOT)

By   October 7, 2010

The MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning Online and Teaching) website is a great collection of online materials for students and teachers across all disciplines, ranging from agriculture to world languages. If you’re looking for resources to use in your classroom or for self-study, I recommend starting with MERLOT before doing a general internet search because the materials are peer-reviewed, under a Creative Commons license, and the results are not influenced by certain companies who are promoting a product.

From their About page: “MERLOT is a free and open online community of resources designed primarily for faculty, staff and students of higher education from around the world to share their learning materials and pedagogy. MERLOT is a leading edge, user-centered, collection of peer reviewed higher education, online learning materials, catalogued by registered members and a set of faculty development support services.”

I am proud to announce that my French Listening Resources mp3s are now included in the French materials and that they are available under a Creative Commons Attribution – Non-Commercial – Share Alike license, meaning that you can copy, distribute, and modify the mp3s as long as you attribute me as the creator, do not make money off of them, and share your adapted works under the same or a similar license.

After a short summer break, I have started updating the podcast once again with another eavesdropping mp3. I plan to continue adding a new mp3 each week, recorded by various native speakers in France and hopefully other Francophone countries as well.

French Listening Resources Podcast

You can subscribe to the French Listening Resources podcast through iTunes, regular RSS, or e-mail and the accompanying webpage is available as a regular blog or as an html page, the latter being where you can also find the transcripts and online listening exercises (and eventually the English translations).

Pragmatics: Knowing what to say in certain situations

By   October 2, 2010

The Foreign Language Teaching Methods modules from the University of Texas-Austin includes a section on pragmatics – how context and situation affect meaning – which is extremely important for language students to learn, yet remains difficult to master. Learning what to say and when to say it, the appropriate use of language, varies significantly among cultures and languages and if students are not even aware of these differences, they risk offending or confusing others or misunderstanding what is said to them. Textbooks do address pragmatics, but in a limited way, such as offering possible ways to accept a compliment, agreeing/disagreeing, or sharing opinions. They do not, and probably cannot, provide all of the possible responses found in native speech.

As pragmatics encompasses all aspects of language, it is not good enough to simply know the grammar and vocabulary; students must also have the cultural knowledge to understand and respond appropriately according to social norms. However, at the beginning stages of language learning, pragmatics may have to take a back seat to basic vocabulary acquisition. If students can’t even produce a coherent sentence in the target language, they certainly won’t be able to focus on the pragmatic aspect of the utterance as well. Nevertheless, we can teach some pragmatic information to beginning students.

One example from my classes is the constant misuse of excuse me and I’m sorry by my French students. In American English, we use excuse me when we want to get someone’s attention or need to get through in a crowded space; whereas we use I’m sorry to apologize for having done something or to express sympathy for someone who has experienced something sad or disappointing. In addition, we may also say Sorry? when we don’t understand or haven’t heard something. Yet my students would constantly say “excuse me” when they had done something wrong  (such as throwing pencils across the room… and yes, I taught at a university) because excuse-moi is what they would have said in French. Then they would start with I’m sorry when they wanted to get my attention. I tried to teach them the differences between the two phrases, and in which situation they should use each, but their habit of translating literally from French into English always interfered until I specifically pointed out the context, like a mother trying to teach her child good manners: If you’re apologizing because you did something wrong, what do you say?

In a different context, this wouldn’t be funny

An example of Americans learning foreign languages is the overuse of I’m sorry in the target language. In some languages, such as French, saying I’m sorry should not be used to express sympathy. If you need to send flowers because your friend’s grandfather just died, you should definitely not write Je suis désolé on the card, because then you would be apologizing for having done something, i.e. causing the death. A standard phrase such as Veuillez accepter toutes mes condoléances would be appropriate in this situation, instead of a literal translation of Sorry for your loss or My thoughts are with you. Pardon is used to apologize for something (accidentally bumping into someone) or to ask someone to repeat what they said (compare I beg your pardon? in English) in addition to meaning excuse me when trying to get someone’s attention, just as excusez-moi is used, especially in restaurants to get the server’s attention. Excusez-moi is also found in the set phrase excusez-moi de vous déranger – sorry for bothering you – so there are several translations for I’m sorry in French depending on the context.

The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota has a nice site on Pragmatics and Speech Acts, including interactive units on Japanese and Spanish. I’m still looking for a site that focuses on pragmatics in French. Anybody know of any sites like this?

Reprise and Detachment in Dislocated Sentences of Spoken French

By   September 29, 2010

Grammar books teach us that pronouns replace nouns, but a very common feature of spoken French is reprise, where a noun and the pronoun that refers to it exist in the same sentence. In addition, the noun or noun phrase is moved to the beginning or end of the sentence (detachment) and the resulting sentence is called dislocated. Dislocations in spoken French can be as high as 50%, according to Rodney Ball’s Colloquial French Grammar, so anyone wanting to comprehend spoken French needs to be able to understand this frequent word order.

1. Instead of this textbook sentence:

Jean est médecin.

In spoken French, you are more likely to hear either:

Jean, il est médecin.
Il est médecin, Jean.

2. Instead of:

Où est la poubelle ?

You will probably hear:

Elle est où, la poubelle ?
or perhaps:
La poubelle, elle est où ?

3. Instead of:

Elle parle plus à son père.

You might hear:

Elle lui parle plus, à son père.
or even:
A son père, elle lui parle plus.

Ball provides some more statistics on detachment: “Subject noun phrases undergo detachment much more often than direct objects, and direct objects more often than indirect objects. Left detachment is about a third more frequent than right detachment for subjects, but right is more frequent than left for direct and indirect objects.” In the examples above, 1. is a subject, 2. is a direct object, and 3. is an indirect object. Number 1. is more likely to be left detached (at the beginning of the sentence) since it is a subject, and 2. and 3. are more likely to be right detached (at the end of the sentence) since they are objects.

I wish word order were this easy…

Joel Walz’s article on oral proficiency and French textbooks also mentions the lack of dislocations in educational materials. Traditional textbooks teach tonic pronouns, such as moi, toi, lui, etc. but not how they are used in dislocated sentences. The explanations are limited to subjects and detachment at the beginning of the sentence (or left detachment) as in Moi, je préfère le bleu. However, reprise of object pronouns is also possible as is right detachment. Therefore, common sentences in spoken French such as Lui, je l’ai pas vu or Je le connais pas, moi are not even considered.

For the nerds linguists, there’s a 320 page book all about dislocation in French!

As I’ve mentioned before thanks to reading numerous articles on grammar in language textbooks, textbook authors should be turning towards corpus linguistics so that students have a more accurate and authentic portrayal of the language, including written vs. spoken and formal vs. informal. Even the most recent studies on French textbooks (from 2009) indicate that they still do not teach enough stylistic variation and they do not represent what is most frequently used in the French language today.

Collection of Articles & Sites Related to Languages, Learning, Education, etc. (from Twitter)

By   September 25, 2010

It’s been six months since I posted the last collection of links to language-related articles and sites from @ielanguages on Twitter. Here’s what I’ve been tweeting about recently:

Tomorrow is the European Day of Languages (September 26)

Studies on Language Learning & Acquisition
Education & Teaching / In the Classroom
Language in Society
In French / About French
General Language Learning
I’m also tweeting a colloquial French word/phrase of the day each weekday, so don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and/or “like” the Facebook page – and subscribe to the YouTube account for informal French videos and Flickr for travel photos of Europe.

French in Action Reunion at Yale

By   September 21, 2010

Many university students taking French, as well as frequent viewers of PBS, have probably seen an episode or two of French in Action. It’s a 52 part video series written by Pierre Capretz that covers two years of university level courses. The series was filmed in Paris in 1985 and thanks to fiafans.org, they are having a 25th anniversary celebration this October at Yale.

The actors who played Mireille (Valérie Allain) and Robert (Charles Mayer) will definitely be there in addition to Pierre Capretz. I wish I could go! Someone please go for me!

FIA resources:

Watch all 52 videos online (US & Canada only)

All 52 transcripts (Scribd document)

Mystères et boules de gomme ! (fiafans.org)

FIA Fans Wiki (vocabulary and notes for half of the episodes)

FIA for Teachers (resource for teachers using FIA in class)

The Shaping of Language on iTunes U from La Trobe University

By   September 16, 2010

La Trobe University in Australia is offering an interesting podcast on iTunes U that just became available this summer (or winter, depending on where you are). The Shaping of Language is about “the relationship between the structures of languages and their social, cultural, historical and natural environments.”  Looks like they’ve been updating it every week since the semester started in late July and they provide PDF handouts along with the mp3s.

The Research Centre for Linguistic Typology also has another podcast on iTunes U about the documentation and analysis of “the linguistic structures of endangered and previously undescribed or under-described languages.”

Just searching for linguistics, I also came across a few other interesting podcasts, such as Center for World Languages by UCLA and University of Arizona’s Introduction to Linguistics and Linguistics Lectures.

A Day in Geneva and Learning Swiss French

By   September 14, 2010

My sister and her husband came to visit last week, and we spent a day in Geneva, Switzerland. I had been there numerous times before, but usually it was only to go to the airport to fly somewhere else. This was the first time I was actually a tourist wandering around the old town and so of course I finally took pictures.


Lac Léman and the jet d’eau

Switzerland, and particularly Geneva, is known for being an expensive place. Even the bathrooms at Cornavin train station cost 2 CHF or 1.55€ – and since the Swiss Franc and US dollar are nearly the same nowadays, everything seemed astronomically expensive to my sister and brother-in-law. Needless to say, the only thing they bought was chocolate.


Looks similar to Savoie – sometimes I forgot I was in a different country

Switzerland is not in the European Union, but it is a part of the Schengen space so there are no more passport checks when traveling. A lot of French people work in the Geneva area because Swiss salaries are 3-4 times higher than French salaries. This also means that the border areas in Ain and Haute-Savoie in France have drastically increased their prices, so more and more people have to live further from Geneva and commute even longer to go to work.


Flags of Switzerland and canton of Geneva

Swiss French is similar to Belgian French in that they use déjeuner, dîner and souper as the three meals instead of petit déjeuner, déjeuner and dîner. Septante and nonante are used in place of the cumbersome soixante-dix and quatre-vingt-dix, while a few cantons (Vaud, Valais and Fribourg) use huitante instead of quatre-vingts. No one really uses octante anymore, but you will still find it in literature. A hairdryer is not un sèche-cheveux, but un föhn (borrowed from German, though originally a brand name) and a cell phone is un natel rather than un portable.  A mop is une panosse, not une serpillière, and fromage blanc in France becomes the much shorter séré in Switzerland. One of the most noticeable differences is the use of excepté on traffic signs. France uses sauf, though excepté is also common on Belgian traffic signs.

Learn Swiss French:

You can view all of my Geneva photos on Flickr.