On teaching English in French lycées

I have officially completed my second year as a teaching assistant! And I got my car back Thursday night, so I could drive it to work and back one last time. I finished my last few hours by having the students play Apples to Apples, Scattergories and doing a mock speed dating session.

Over the past two years, I’ve been noticing some common themes in the way English is taught to French students. Foreign language education is more advanced here than in the US, where all I ever learned was verb conjugations and vocabulary lists in high school. However, just because English is taught in this way doesn’t mean the students actually learn more… Plenty of my students apparently learned nothing over the past seven years of English classes. But some of them were surprisingly good, so it really just depends on the student and their motivation and desire to learn.

In France, language education seems to be much more culture-based, with more use of authentic materials, and it involves learning how to write/talk about common subjects that are (stereotypically) associated with the English-speaking world. The focus is more on communication, meaning, and expressing your ideas/opinions instead of on the grammatical forms.

I vaguely remember learning about some aspects of French culture/history when I was in college, such as May ’68 and the presidents of the 5th Republic… but that was in a class specifically called “French Culture.” I never really learned about important cultural differences when I was in high school.

So here are the main topics that my English classes were always learning about:

Blues & Jazz music
Junk Food & Obesity
Speed Dating
Gun Control
Environment & Global Warming
Racism & Slavery

Most of these are very “American” topics or problems, so I wonder how much the teachers really know about these subjects since they all studied British English in the UK. Sometimes I got the impression that students were learning overly-stereotypical ideas about Americans. It didn’t matter how much I explained that there are plenty of Americans who don’t own guns, and who are not overweight, and who do care about the environment (like me!!) Some of the students will always believe that all Americans are violent, obese and ruining the planet.

But then again, how can you effectively teach the culture of a foreign country that your students have never been to and may never go to? All they know about the US is what they see on TV or in movies, which we all know is never ever fake… They will never be able to experience the culture, especially one that is so diverse in a country that is so large, so they just take away small snippets of stereotypes instead. Is that better than learning no culture at all?

Y en. (Not a French donkey.)

I hate y and en. These little words have caused so much confusion for me in French. The basic rules are: 1) y replaces a prepositional phrase (except those beginning with de). It translates as “there” or “it” and sometimes it is not translated into English. On va à Boston demain. We’re going to Boston […]

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April (snow) showers

I keep telling everybody that the weather in Annecy is gorgeous in April. “Don’t worry, last year it was sunny and 70.” “You won’t need warm clothes or an umbrella.” Ummm. This is what it looked like yesterday: Today it’s raining, but it still feels just as cold. And the forecast for the next 5 […]

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Goodbye Assistantship, Hello Unemployment

Some good news finally. My car still isn’t fixed, but at least I only have 3 days of work left! I work Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and then my second year as an assistant will be over. Technically 7 month assistants work until April 30, but because of the 2 week break (April 12-27), that […]

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The one where Jennie finds out she’s self-employed.

In the midst of trying to figure out my American income taxes, I discovered that I am considered “self-employed in a US business” thanks to the Google Ads on my website. Huh? I’m self-employed? But I don’t even make enough money to break even each month! I had thought my Google payments would just be […]

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Almost April

Our internet was fixed Thursday night. I’m not sure how I managed to live without internet for 12 days, but I did get a lot of work done on my Lesson Plans page and French & German Comparative Tutorial. Some of my classes were cancelled yesterday because parents “sequestered” the teachers in the building as […]

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And it keeps getting better and better…

RIP Renault Super 5. The garagiste said the entire motor needs to be replaced. That would cost more than the 1200 I paid for it. So now I’m out all those euros and an automatic car. I’m so frustrated and angry and just sad. I could barely afford that car, which took four months to […]

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Worst Week Ever

Not a good way to start the weekend. So in addition to the no internet/TV/phone thing, I now have no car. It decided to overheat and leave me stranded on the highway Friday afternoon after I left work. And the weather gods wanted to make things worse, so they made it snow and rain all […]

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Another I hate France day.

No internet for 36 hours chez nous!!! At least we figured out the problem is the ADSL line and not the Freebox. Unfortunately, the helpful customer service people at Free claim they can’t send a technician until NEXT WEDNESDAY. If France Telecom can’t fix it before then, I will be without internet for a while. […]

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Bon PACSiversaire

Happy one year PACSiversary to us! Jij bent mijn hartendief.

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Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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