Talk Out Loud!

It’s vacation time already! I have 11 days off thanks to Toussaint. Then there are only 7 weeks left of the semester (one of which is shortened by the jour férié on November 11) after that. Time flies when you’re having fun, eh? I wish I could do this job forever. I know my next job (whatever it will be…) will not give me nearly as many days off and the possibility of sleeping in almost everyday. But it hopefully will involve more French and less English and a higher paycheck, though I’m not too optimistic about that in the land of low salaries.

But back to my current job. At the beginning of the semester, I like to torture encourage my first year students by forcing asking them to speak spontaneously in English for a whole 60 seconds on a subject that we have already covered in class. Considering they have been learning English for 7-9 years already, this should be rather easy. However, by the looks on their faces and the dead silence that lasts for 5 minutes before one of them is brave enough to start talking into their microphone makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s as if no one has ever asked them to SPEAK in English before and considering France’s current system of teaching languages, that may very well be the case.

So I will be spending my vacation listening to and grading some 50 recordings of these timid students who are afraid to talk in the language that they are majoring in. Few of them seem to understand the importance of speaking out loud when learning a new language. Not just for pronunciation, but to remember the correct phrases and to train the muscles in the mouth to get used to a new way of forming sounds and words and sentences.

Ok, they record themselves speaking English once, but then they think it ends there. No no no! You must listen to yourself speaking. Does your pronunciation sound good? Can you spot some mistakes in grammar? Are there a lot of hesitations and unclear utterances? What do you need to improve on?  Try another recording and listen again. Then do it again. And again. None of this “once is enough” attitude and doing it just for the sake of getting it done.

And the whole point is to get them speaking spontaneously, without any written preparation beforehand. They are so used to writing everything first, and then reading it. But that’s not real life. I seriously wonder how some students think they will be able to work for an Anglophone company in 3 years when they won’t even try to speak in English in class, where there is a native speaker to help them and it’s ok if they make mistakes because I will correct them. What are they going to do in the real world when they’re asked to talk to Anglophone clients or interpret at meetings or (worst of all!) answer the phone in English?

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  • http://twitter.com/jpack Justin

    It is so interesting to hear about the differences in learning a language between our two countries. I remember taking French in Junior year of high school and freaking out the first day when the teacher informed us that she will only be speaking French, and we are required to only speak French as well. And we had numerous one-on-one speaking tests. It was scary at first, but by the third day we all got over the fear. Granted … 10 years later I forgot everything, had to move to France and relearn it all again. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/jpack Justin

    It is so interesting to hear about the differences in learning a language between our two countries. I remember taking French in Junior year of high school and freaking out the first day when the teacher informed us that she will only be speaking French, and we are required to only speak French as well. And we had numerous one-on-one speaking tests. It was scary at first, but by the third day we all got over the fear. Granted … 10 years later I forgot everything, had to move to France and relearn it all again. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/jpack Justin

    It is so interesting to hear about the differences in learning a language between our two countries. I remember taking French in Junior year of high school and freaking out the first day when the teacher informed us that she will only be speaking French, and we are required to only speak French as well. And we had numerous one-on-one speaking tests. It was scary at first, but by the third day we all got over the fear. Granted … 10 years later I forgot everything, had to move to France and relearn it all again. :-)

  • http://thejesspress.wordpress.com/ jessica

    My last French course in college was a masters level linguistics course and our prof, a lovely but strict woman from Strausbourg drilled us exactly the same way. Tons of recording, re-recording, and transcribing our own voices in IPA. The latter being perhaps the most brutal part. The entire semester felt like torture with her, but I knew that I was making progress.

    In the end, I have to give her course credit for my French now. This process of recording own voice a billion times and pinpointing my errors corrected my speaking habits. I’ll always have an accent when I speak, but I’m very proud of the fact that most often, native speakers can’t figure out where I’m from.

    So, all that being said, I say, continue to torture them! The ones who really want to speak well will appreciate it later.No pain, no gain!
    .-= jessica´s last blog ..foraged in a fall forest =-.

  • http://thejesspress.wordpress.com/ jessica

    My last French course in college was a masters level linguistics course and our prof, a lovely but strict woman from Strausbourg drilled us exactly the same way. Tons of recording, re-recording, and transcribing our own voices in IPA. The latter being perhaps the most brutal part. The entire semester felt like torture with her, but I knew that I was making progress.

    In the end, I have to give her course credit for my French now. This process of recording own voice a billion times and pinpointing my errors corrected my speaking habits. I’ll always have an accent when I speak, but I’m very proud of the fact that most often, native speakers can’t figure out where I’m from.

    So, all that being said, I say, continue to torture them! The ones who really want to speak well will appreciate it later.No pain, no gain!
    .-= jessica´s last blog ..foraged in a fall forest =-.

  • http://thejesspress.wordpress.com/ jessica

    My last French course in college was a masters level linguistics course and our prof, a lovely but strict woman from Strausbourg drilled us exactly the same way. Tons of recording, re-recording, and transcribing our own voices in IPA. The latter being perhaps the most brutal part. The entire semester felt like torture with her, but I knew that I was making progress.

    In the end, I have to give her course credit for my French now. This process of recording own voice a billion times and pinpointing my errors corrected my speaking habits. I’ll always have an accent when I speak, but I’m very proud of the fact that most often, native speakers can’t figure out where I’m from.

    So, all that being said, I say, continue to torture them! The ones who really want to speak well will appreciate it later.No pain, no gain!
    .-= jessica´s last blog ..foraged in a fall forest =-.

  • http://doubledouble-petitcafe.blogspot.com/ Steph

    They will thank you later, I’m sure :)

    It’s so hard to make that step, but once you can speak without being too afraid of sounding silly, that’s when you can really learn :)

  • http://doubledouble-petitcafe.blogspot.com Steph

    They will thank you later, I’m sure :)

    It’s so hard to make that step, but once you can speak without being too afraid of sounding silly, that’s when you can really learn :)

  • http://www.ukuleleinrouen.blogspot.com/ Kinzie

    I have the same thought with my Terminales when I think about their oral BAC at the end of the year– some of these kids can’t even put one sentence together on their own. How do they think they’ll be able to talk for ten minutes straight? Wouldn’t a little effort be worth the fact that, at the end, you could finish high school?

    I think I could benefit from recording myself too. It’s a really good idea; I’m going to look into doing that!

  • http://www.ukuleleinrouen.blogspot.com Kinzie

    I have the same thought with my Terminales when I think about their oral BAC at the end of the year– some of these kids can’t even put one sentence together on their own. How do they think they’ll be able to talk for ten minutes straight? Wouldn’t a little effort be worth the fact that, at the end, you could finish high school?

    I think I could benefit from recording myself too. It’s a really good idea; I’m going to look into doing that!

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com/ Zhu

    I did study some English in high school but I know I really couldn’t speak spontaneously. Reading and writing were easier.

    I only realized how much my English sucked when I went to China and meet a bunch of Americans.
    .-= Zhu´s last blog ..10 Canadian Restaurants =-.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    I did study some English in high school but I know I really couldn’t speak spontaneously. Reading and writing were easier.

    I only realized how much my English sucked when I went to China and meet a bunch of Americans.
    .-= Zhu´s last blog ..10 Canadian Restaurants =-.

  • http://www.franceprofonde.blogspot.com/ Betty C.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog. I haven’t been following bloggy things too well but since you are teaching, I’m going to put you on my Google reader.

    What program are you teaching in? Is it English Lit at the Faculté or L.E.A.?

    I once read that the average French student has spoken a total of 7 minutes in English class by the time s/he gets his/her Bac….
    .-= Betty C.´s last blog ..Use of a Flickr photo for online guide — what do you think? =-.

  • http://www.franceprofonde.blogspot.com Betty C.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog. I haven’t been following bloggy things too well but since you are teaching, I’m going to put you on my Google reader.

    What program are you teaching in? Is it English Lit at the Faculté or L.E.A.?

    I once read that the average French student has spoken a total of 7 minutes in English class by the time s/he gets his/her Bac….
    .-= Betty C.´s last blog ..Use of a Flickr photo for online guide — what do you think? =-.

  • http://www.edgeoftheforest.wordpress.com/ Andrea

    Interesting to read about how the French learn languages in their schools… Rather than being afraid of speaking in a foreign language, I have a different sort of problem — I can go on and on in Spanish (even though I speak it really poorly), BUT if someone starts speaking it to me, I completely freeze up. So, I guess however I learned Spanish in school, they did the opposite of what the English teachers in French schools have been doing?
    It’s too bad, because I look like an idiot when someone speaks to me in Spanish. I just can’t understand people. I can read it, I can speak it, I can write it, but I can comprehend maybe one word of every 8 in spoken Spanish…. any helpful tips? :)

  • http://www.edgeoftheforest.wordpress.com/ Andrea

    Interesting to read about how the French learn languages in their schools… Rather than being afraid of speaking in a foreign language, I have a different sort of problem — I can go on and on in Spanish (even though I speak it really poorly), BUT if someone starts speaking it to me, I completely freeze up. So, I guess however I learned Spanish in school, they did the opposite of what the English teachers in French schools have been doing?
    It’s too bad, because I look like an idiot when someone speaks to me in Spanish. I just can’t understand people. I can read it, I can speak it, I can write it, but I can comprehend maybe one word of every 8 in spoken Spanish…. any helpful tips? :)

  • http://www.edgeoftheforest.wordpress.com Andrea

    Interesting to read about how the French learn languages in their schools… Rather than being afraid of speaking in a foreign language, I have a different sort of problem — I can go on and on in Spanish (even though I speak it really poorly), BUT if someone starts speaking it to me, I completely freeze up. So, I guess however I learned Spanish in school, they did the opposite of what the English teachers in French schools have been doing?
    It’s too bad, because I look like an idiot when someone speaks to me in Spanish. I just can’t understand people. I can read it, I can speak it, I can write it, but I can comprehend maybe one word of every 8 in spoken Spanish…. any helpful tips? :)

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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