On learning and teaching

I cracked open my French vocabulary books after a much-too-long break from them, and rediscovered why I love learning new words. Vocabulaire expliqué du français; niveau intermédiaire begins with a chapter on prefixes and suffixes, which are mostly the same in English thanks to Latin. But there was one prefix I didn’t know in French: para- which means against.

Finally I understand why umbrella is parapluie in French (in Italian, it’s ombrello). It literally means against rain! Then parachute makes sense, which English borrowed directly from French. Against fall! And parasol – against sun! I love that learning more French helps me understand more English.

Atterrir makes more sense now as “to land.” Somehow I never noticed that the word terre was inside of that verb. Duh. Even avenue has a more distinct meaning than I thought. It was originally reserved for the streets that led directly to a castle, for example, and it’s called an avenue because that’s how people came (venu) to the castle. And why do we walk dans la rue, but sur la route? Because a rue has houses and buildings on both sides, so you are walking among them; whereas a route leads you through open land, with no obstructions on either side.

Sometimes I get so frustrated at the French language and all of its illogical rules and annoying borrowings from English (like every “French” word that ends in -ing!), but I get so excited when something becomes more clear. I usually have to know why something is a certain way in order to understand and remember it well, so if there’s no real reason – like why French borrowed le brushing to mean blowdry or le catch to mean fake wrestling – it drives me crazy. I need order and logic!

I’m only 50 pages into this book and I already feel like I’ve learned so much. I’ve actually been really lazy about studying French lately (or any language for that matter…) and I’m not sure why. At least I’ve been doing exercises online for the TCF (Test de Connaissance du Français) on their official site and on RFI’s site. I should be fluent in French by the time I have to take this test in order to immigrate to Quebec, but I just want to be prepared… even years in advance. And apparently the TCF for Quebec only lasts 45 minutes – it’s just 30 listening comprehension questions and 6 spoken expression questions! No grammar or reading comprehension, which is what I’m best at, of course.

I’ve also been attempting the Exercices PDF at Amélioration du français and trying to read more in French. I recently bought Hélène Berr’s diary (she’s being called the French Anne Frank) and even though I know it’s going to depress me, I’m really interested in reading about her life in Paris after the German occupation. Plus I already learned a new word just in the second sentence: giboulée, which sounds like part of a chicken, but it actually means a rain shower.

But because I’m not content with just studying one language, I’ve also been trying to memorize more irregular verbs in the simple past tense in German. I’m still teaching irregular verbs in English to my private student, and I’m beginning to see why it’s so difficult for her. Sometimes there are just no rules for the changes (why does sein become war; why does go become went??)

I always try to incorporate methods that I use for learning languages into my teaching. Obviously just studying grammar does not help you become fluent, or otherwise I’d be fluent in so many languages now. Having exposure to the real, authentic language is the only way to learn. Listening comprehension is so underestimated in language classes. I’ll never understand why teachers insist on speaking all in French when they are trying to teach their students to speak in English. How are you ever going to learn correct pronunciation, stress and intonation if you never hear the actual language?

Currently, the bulk of my assistantship job is helping Terminale students to pass their oral bac exam at the end of the year. The students will receive some sort of visual document that they’ve never seen before, have 10 minutes to prepare a speech about it (describe it and analyze it), and then they must talk for 10 minutes. It’s actually quite hard, especially if you don’t practice for it. Luckily, I found all of the documents used on the 2007 exam online, as well as a certain formula to follow when constructing the speech.

So my students have learned how to prepare for their exam, but they haven’t really learned what to say. Even after several years of English classes, their vocabulary and pronunciation need a ton of improvement. I feel like I need to teach them the basics of English, which they should have learned in middle school. But that’s not even what bothers me most about teaching Terminale students – it’s that I’m teaching them how to pass an exam, not how to speak real English. Sure, they’ll be able to explain a black & white document, but if they went to an English-speaking country tomorrow, could they survive? I highly doubt it.

P.S. I love that the Quebecois say dormir comme un ours instead of dormir comme un loir.

P.S.S. If you look at page 7 of the documents used on the 2007 exam, you’ll see an ad from the Michigan State Police. LOL

Buying furniture in France, or why I miss dad’s big blue truck

We had to buy a new sommier (box spring) today because our old one was held up with books. Thank you Harry Potter for not letting our mattress fall to the ground. I’m still amazed at how cheaply-made beds are in France. Thin wood held together with staples, what a genius idea. That wood will […]

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Jealousy times ten thousand

What I am missing in Michigan: My parents’ driveway after 6 inches (15 cm) of snow fell. My beloved car buried under 14 inches (35.5 cm) of snow. Brandy attacking the huge snow pile. That is what winter should be like…. ::sigh::

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Super Duper Tuesday

I had my students vote in a fake primary today. The ballots were just as entertaining as the class. Can you understand the pictures next to the names? I think it’s hilarious. Barack Obama and John McCain were the winners, although no one had heard of any of the Republican candidates and I did get […]

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What do groundhogs and crêpes have in common?

February 2 is Groundhog Day (le jour de la marmotte) in North America; but here in France, it’s la Chandeleur (le jour des crêpes). I forgot to mention that my interview is now up at Expat Interviews. Oh, and the president got married today. Apparently Sarko & Carla only met in November?? That was quick.

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Aujourd’hui

Annecy in winter I tried to pick up my new carte de séjour today. Except the people in Paris had made a mistake and sent an exact copy of the card I already have – visiteur that expires at the end of March. It’s supposed to be travailleur temporaire that expires in May. ::sigh:: By […]

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Observations & Questions

I’m still amazed that students cannot figure out that the American word vacation mean vacances. I know they’ve always been taught the British word holiday, but I thought they’d be able to understand it in context… Apparently I was wrong. What is another way of saying “What else?” All of my students are getting into […]

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What I do

I realized I hadn’t posted about the assistantship in a long time, so here’s a summary of what I’ve been doing at work lately: On Tuesdays, I have all secondes (10th grade), so I try to focus on vocabulary and pronunciation. We’ve done geography of the US, describing people, and American high schools in the […]

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Waiting and planning and waiting

We may be staying in Annecy a little while longer than planned. I had my heart set on Lyon if we were to stay in France since finding a job there would be easier, but we don’t really have a choice. I’m a little sad about not being able to move to Quebec sooner, but […]

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Day 3 of driving in France

I love my little car because it’s so little. I’m going to build up some muscles because there’s no power steering and it’s hard to turn that wheel to get out of a parking space. There’s no radio either, but I honestly don’t mind that. Driving isn’t too stressful since I learned all the road […]

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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 January 2010, I started focusing more on teaching and learning languages in general. 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 the university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling (though now my trips are usually in Australia) and being an American abroad.

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