Québec is Calling Me…

By   October 18, 2009

In order to feed my Quebec obsession, I’ve been watching the Radio-Canada series “Catherine” on TV5 each evening. Luckily it’s subtitled in European French because I don’t understand all the words, but when they make cultural references to Thanksgiving, Sears or hockey, it makes me a little homesick. Sometimes I catch “Pure Laine” which is also a comedy about life in Montréal in a multi-cultural family (Quebecois mother, Haitian father, and adopted Chinese girl). Barbara has been posting her wonderful photos of a recent trip to Montréal & Québce City and David has been mentioning wanting to go there more and more lately.

Then Quebec announces that between now and 2012, it will need 700,000 immigrants to make up for the retiring population. They’re increasing their quota for French citizens as well, because of course they want people who already speak French. I’m not a French citizen (not yet anyway! I can apply after 5 years of PACS, so early 2012), but I can obviously still apply as an American citizen who speaks French. Career-wise, I don’t know what David or I would do because he works for the French government and I really don’t want to continue teaching English.  (I could be improving my Italian and German so much instead of preparing lessons…)

If the high-speed railway between Montréal and Windsor ever gets approved and built, I will so be there! It currently takes more than 9.5 hours to take the train from Montréal to Windsor (not including connection in Toronto) compared to at least a 9 hour drive from Montréal to Flint by way of Sarnia. Granted, Windsor is still a 2 hour drive to my parents’ house, but cutting down on the travel time in any way would be nice especially if I didn’t have to drive at all. The whole project would connect Québec City to Windsor (via Montréal, Ottawa and Toronto) in 3 hours and 55 minutes!

Emphasizing Oral Skills in Language Education

By   October 17, 2009

For once I agree with Sarkozy on something. He recently announced an “emergency” plan for changing the way languages are taught in France. He recognizes that the French system currently emphasizes too much grammar and memorization when basic communication skills such as listening and speaking should be the focus of language education. Even though most French students learn two foreign languages from the 6th grade on, by the time they finish high school, they still cannot actually speak the language. Another recent report indicates that 41% of adults in France report speaking no foreign languages, which ranks France as the 6th worst country for adults speaking another language (behind Greece, Bulgaria, Spain, Portugal, and Hungary, which reports a whopping 78% of adults who only speak Hungarian).

After observing and “assisting” two years of middle & high school English classes in France, I can definitely say the teachers did not care so much for teaching listening skills or even exposing the students to authentic language which is absolutely necessary to improve pronunciation and spoken fluency. Of course, with 30-36 students in each class that only meets a few hours a week, it’s a nearly impossible to have every student practice talking. But that’s what homework is for. This leads into questions of motivation and autonomous learning, which are often very different for each student – especially French students who must take two foreign languages even if they don’t want to.

Some schools have been experimenting with using more audio resources for teaching English. I came across some reportages on using mp3 players outside of class to listen to an audio file in English and then the student records his or her reaction to it, or tries to write down the transcription, or answers comprehension questions, etc. The schools provide the mp3 players (since not all teenagers have one already), and this way more expensive language labs or even computers are not actually necessary.

Since my university most likely won’t spend money on mp3 players (because they won’t spend money on new computers…), I prefer to have my classes in the one computer room we have on campus even though the computers are from the late 90’s and we’re stuck using the 60-second-maximum Windows recorder. I’ve been asking for administrator privileges so I can install Audacity, but no luck so far. In my special English class for exchange students, I’ve been spending a ridiculous amount of time preparing interactive lessons using audio and video files so that the students can listen to English as much as possible. Our program does include many language labs that are audio-based as well, but the lecture courses remain writing and grammar-based and the grades for these lecture courses count more than for the labs, which seems a bit backwards to me.

But should all students be forced to learn English? My university doesn’t even offer a degree in a single foreign language. Students must learn English and another language. It’s English/Spanish, English/Italian or English/German and nothing else. Sarkozy was mostly referring to English when he announced the new plan because of its status as a global language vital to international business and also because he’s still upset about France’s ranking of 69 out of 109 on the TOEFL test. But some French people would prefer to learn other languages in order get jobs, such as German. The region of Alsace has launched a new campaign to get people interested in learning German because there are several jobs in the area that go unfilled because they cannot find enough French-German bilinguals to hire.  (The official site is here.)  German is actually the most widely-spoken language in Europe. There are 100 million people (or about 1 out of every 5 people in the EU) who speak it as their native language as compared to around 75 million for English.

Summer to Fall to Christmas in One Week

By   October 13, 2009

Last week I was still wearing tank tops because the temperature was still reaching 75° (24 C). This week it’s been probably about 50° or 60° (10-15 C) and the heat has been turned on in our building. We’re supposed to turn all the radiators on full blast to make sure everything is working properly and I absolutely love it. Our apartment had better be this warm all winter long. Anything is better than our heatless apartment in Annecy though, I guess!  After freezing for two years with no heat and no hot water in the evenings, it is nice to know that I will finally be comfortable in my own apartment.

We also received catalogs from Toys R Us and King Jouet today, advertising toys to buy for Christmas! It is October 13th. OCTOBER THIRTEENTH! I don’t even want to think about Christmas yet, especially since most of our money will have to go towards the stupid taxe d’habitation anyway and we’re staying in France this year so I will once again miss out on a real Michigan Christmas full of decorations and cookies and snow and Rudolph the Reindeer on the radio.

As much as I love summer, I’m glad fall is here. I feel better working and having a purpose in life instead of just being on vacation forever. Work is going great this year (minus all the scheduling conflicts) and I’m not having too many problems with students. Or at least I think I yelled enough at the immature boys last week that they got the point. Giving them seating charts and treating them like 5 year-olds works wonders sometimes. I think the best part is being able to work with students from last year because they know how I expect them to behave and simply already knowing their names makes things so much easier. And my Italian students! I adore them. I want to go to the Università della Valle d’Aosta just to tell them to send me more students.

Five hours of class tomorrow and I am en week-end again!

Switzerland vs. France (Not a Football Match)

By   October 13, 2009

Oddly enough, living in France near the Swiss border has more disadvantages than advantages. At first I thought it would be nice to be close to another country that isn’t even in the EU. Geneva’s international airport has served me well over the years, but I’ve got to say that I’ve never actually spent time in Geneva other than to go to the airport or to catch a train to Germany. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Switzerland, but it’s just too expensive and the trains between France and Switzerland aren’t all that convenient.

The main reason I don’t like being close to the border is the higher cost of living. So many people in Annecy and Annemasse commute to Geneva everyday for work and they earn twice as much money as people who are doing the same job in France. Property prices in Haute-Savoie have skyrocketed because of this, though they are still below the average prices in Geneva. Our taxe d’habitation even increased 100€ in one year because the taxes in and around Annecy went up so much. If Annecy is awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics, I hate to think how much more expensive it will become.

Now that we live in Chambéry, prices are slightly better  because we’re further from the border. But I still hear complaints from French people who work in Switzerland that “all Swiss people hate the French.” How is complaining that a nationality is racist towards you NOT also racist towards them?? I get sick of hearing these rich people complain about their working conditions. If you don’t like working in Switzerland, then don’t do it. But then they’d have to earn a typical French salary like everyone else in the country, and that would be horrible! After earning 3000-4000€ a month, how could they ever go back to a measly 1500€?

The extreme right political party in Switzerland, which has already been trying to ban the building of minarets, is now attacking French workers in Geneva. They call them “racaille” and even “criminels étrangers” in their latest newspaper ads in response to the CEVA project to start train service between Geneva and Annemasse to make it easier for commuters to get to and from work. I understand that they’re mad about the high unemployment in the Geneva area, but calling French people scum?? Come on.  How about you just give out fewer work permits to French people?

I wonder if tensions are as high in other bordering countries. I can’t imagine so since almost all of the other countries are EU and therefore must allow French people to work there. There is no debate about work permits. None of them offer much higher salaries like Switzerland either. And of course, the language barrier probably prevents many French people from working in Germany or Italy or Spain… But what about Belgium? Are salaries higher there? Do a lot of people in Lille commute to Belgium to work?

PACS is 10 years old

By   October 11, 2009

PACSing was created in France in late 1999, originally as an alternative to gay marriage, but straight couples are also allowed to get PACSed. In 2000, there were 22,108 PACS. In 2008, the number had risen to 144,716. However, less than 6% of the PACS in 2008 were gay couples. The majority of PACS are actually straight couples who intend to eventually get married, or who get PACSed for the tax benefits. These statistics are probably unwelcome to the anti-PACS crusaders who claim it deteriorates the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. Too bad the divorce rate is still much higher (about 50%) than the de-PACSing rate (about 15%).

Recently couples have been celebrating their PACS in their town halls. PACSing is actually done at the tribunal, but couples nowadays in certain cities can also go to the mairie to have another ceremony that resembles a marriage ceremony. (Remember in France all marriage ceremonies must be done at the town hall. Church weddings are not legally binding because separation of church and state actually exists here.)

I have yet to come across statistics on how many PACS partners are foreigners though. I’m interested in knowing how many foreigners get PACSed just for the right to live in France legally (provided their préfecture actually gives them a carte de séjour). It’s not exactly law, but usually non-EU citizens who are PACSed to a French citizen or even another EU citizen can get a visitor residency card for a year, and then after that, they will have the right to live and work in France like any EU citizen.

David and I have been PACSed since March 2007 and I now have the right to live and work in France thanks to being PACSed. I still have to renew my residency card every year, and I have to wait longer to apply for citizenship (5 years instead of the 4 required if you’re married to a French citizen); but it’s worth it to not be separated from David just because we were born in different countries.

So happy 10 years PACS! Here’s to hoping that all countries someday allow civil unions AND marriage to ALL people.

Where does the time go?

By   October 9, 2009

I’ve finished my first full week of classes (all 16.5 hours) and even though I only work Monday-Wednesday, I am exhausted! I would prefer to work 4 hours a day over 4 days, but the students don’t have classes on Thursday afternoons because of sports. So as of 6:30pm Wednesday evening, I am en week-end.

However, since I’m teaching a new English “soutien” class for our Italian exchange students, my entire weekend goes by in a flash because I spend all my time preparing for it. We’re working in the computer lab, so I’m preparing tons of online flashcards and listening exercises. I almost lost my voice yesterday recording tons of words to illustrate all the vowel differences. My students are so enthusiastic about improving their English so I feel like giving them as much material as possible to work with. I’m trying to incorporate all accents of English instead of just American or British. I actually spent about 6 hours yesterday just finding and downloading more audio and video files that I thought would help with their listening comprehension. (Elllo.org and Real English are awesome, btw.)

The rest of my classes are going fine so far, except for a few immature boys in my first year classes. (Why is it always boys??) I feel much better this year since I know exactly what I need to do and what the students need to learn. Plus knowing that I’m only 10 minutes from home instead of 50 is quite nice.

Only 2 more weeks until Toussaint vacation!

I.D. se prononce Heidi

By   October 4, 2009

I somehow came across the French School of Detroit’s site when I was reading France-Amérique and I thought their page on American vocabulary was so cute. The students’ parents are not always fluent in English, so they explained a few American words that the parents will probably encounter.


Concrètement, il s’agit des repas pour vos enfants le midi. Ils sont à fournir aux enfants de maternelle et aux autres si vous ne souhaitez pas qu’ils mangent dans les cafétérias américaines. Vous pourrez trouver des petits thermos (food containers) ou même des sacs isothermes dans les magasins du type Target, Meijer, KMart…


Les premiers temps vous montrerez votre passeport et puis une fois le permis du Michigan en poche, il deviendra l’incontournable ID ( se prononce Heidi…)

Station service:

Quand vous irez la première fois prendre de l’essence, peut-être serez-vous surpris par le terme “lift nozzle” : cela signifie prendre le pistolet .

“Débit or crédit”

A la caisse, vous avez le choix de payer à :

débit / ATM: carte bancaire à prélèvement immédiat, même pour des petites sommes.
crédit: carte bancaire différente permettant un prélèvement différé que vous paierez à réception du relevé


Vous avez la possibilité lors de vos paiements en caisse de demander de l’argent liquide, avec votre carte de débit. (il y a des frais avec la carte de crédit !)

I love the se prononce Heidi part. Isn’t that adorable?

I miss lunchboxes…

My new favorite applet for teaching and learning languages online: NanoGong

By   October 1, 2009

I just discovered this awesome applet called NanoGong from the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. It’s a mini-recorder that you can use on webpages (and Moodle) and it will work perfectly in my vocabulary classes! The students listen to my pronunciation (by using flash mp3 players that I already embedded into the flashcards) and then they can record their pronunciation of the word and compare the two. They can also save their recordings in .wav or .flv format. I am so geeked out by this! I can’t wait for them to try it next week!

This is what it looks like, though this is just the image. Try it for yourself on NanoGong’s site or my FSI Italian flashcards. I plan on adding it to other flashcards when I get the chance.

I ♥ technology.

Year Four Begins…

By   September 28, 2009

I completely missed my 3 year anniversary of living in France! In some ways, it seems longer than 3 years. In other ways, not so much. Year four brings a new apartment and city to discover, the same job but new students to teach, and another year closer to officially becoming French.

I feel like I’ve been slowly acquiescing to France’s lifestyle and feeling slightly less annoyed by the things I wish I could change. I still refuse to eat lunch at 12 sharp and I do wish stores were open on Sundays, but eh, what are ya gonna do? It’s funny now to see how frustrated people are when they first arrive in France and realize they have no control over anything. I just laughed at the never-ending schedule changes at work this year (too many students, not enough classes), yet I know the new lecteurs are freaking out and feeling stressed because they still don’t even know when they have to work and it’s the 2nd week of the semester. But I don’t care. It’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong, especially when it’s not your fault.

I don’t want to take my je-m’en-foutisme to the extreme, but sometimes you gotta have it to survive, or at least, to not have a heart attack due to stress. I could have pulled my hair out upon arriving at work and finding that only 11 of the computers worked and the internet was down, meaning we couldn’t use Dialang to do the placement tests. But I didn’t. Luckily only 11 students showed up for each class, so we started with a different vocabulary test that doesn’t require the internet, and the network was fixed in time to finish up with what I wanted to do. Things all worked out in the end.