Friday, October 16, 2009

My French Education

So here I am ending week 2 of my intense French education.  I take 3 classes a week at ASEP which is a local community center – it is not the one closest to me – but it offers much much more in the way of adult learning classes and, thanks to Mr. Liberty, I can get there in between 5 and 10 minutes.  I only discovered it due to the fact that it is the same venue where Zander takes theatre. 

A small note about the importance of being on time.  Tardiness is simply not tolerated at these classes, and if, for some reason, you don’t show up you had better damn well let them know ahead of time!  If not, you will get a call.  If you are late, you will get dirty looks. Everyone discusses the person that isn’t there – wondering where they are and stressing, over and over, the importance of coming every week. I mean, we are all adults here right?  It is very amusing to me, perhaps this is the same thing with the birthday parties – everyone comes on time, and leaves on time. 

The first class, Monday mornings, is sort of a goals class.  It is populated by non-French speakers but isn’t really a language class – it’s more of a class to help you reach a goal.  For example, they might help you look for a job, prepare for an interview, re do your resume etc… The government monthly stipend we were promised before we came here is still not happening and, at this point, I despair of ever seeing that money so I  am thinking I might like to get some sort of part time job to help earn the money we need to move home.  Also, I’ve got my heart set on a Greek cruise next summer, and those don’t come cheap!  So I updated my resume (which I hadn’t done for 10 years) and tried to translate it into French.  It was fun to try to show how all my volunteer work really does count for something!  I copy it below – for your reading pleasure:

Objective:       To obtain a part time position teaching English to French speakers.
The Big Backyard Nursery School 2005-2008
     President, 2007-2008 – Responsibilities included management of entire cooperative nursery school including: running board meetings, creating and approving budgets, hiring and firing staff and coordinating and managing a thirty family effort to run a top ranked nursery school.
     Registrar, 2006-2007 – Handled publicity for school, ran open houses, responsible for enrollment of new families in school as well as forecasting enrollment-based budgets. Published annual directory, and initiated new system to maintain registrant data.  Interacted directly with programmer and office staff to design and test system, wrote all instructional literature and trained future registrar on its use.
     Secretary, 2006-2007 - Member of the board, responsible for communication with member families.
JS Jenks Elementary, 2006-2008
     Public Relations Coordinator -Initiated this position within the school. Wrote and edited marketing pieces such as  informational literature, brochures, advertisements, flyers, and direct e-mail. Ran  successful open houses, resulting in more staff involvement and doubling attendance at every event.
Various, 2005-2008
     Literacy Volunteer  Tutored adults and 8-15 year old children to increase reading skills.
     Parent Volunteer   Assisted lead teachers in classroom for children on a regular basis between ages 3 and 9 years. Also coordinated art, cooking and scouting projects with groups of children and assisted in school fund raising and community efforts.
Exhibits Manager and Marketing Coordinator IOP Publishing, 1997 to 2001                     
     Exhibits Manager - Arranged for booth, publications, sales materials, professional meetings, and hotel stays at all the conferences. Created a new system of both pre and post exhibit marketing campaigns, with response rates of up to 20%.  
     Editorial Assistant - Compiled a list of terms for a physics encyclopedia.  Wrote and edited marketing pieces. 
     Database Supervisor- Initiated and commissioned the design of a new sales and marketing management system for remote and local use. 
     Marketing Coordinator-  Served as maternity cover for Journals Marketing Manager.
Continuing education:
     Currently enrolled in French classes three days per week, learning French cooking and studying to be a dyslexia tutor.
     Temple University, College of Arts and Sciences
       English Major with a concentration in Writing
     Graduated Magna cum Laude, and Phi Beta Kappa, May 1998
     Four-year Academic and Athletic full Scholarship
Computer Skills:
       Proficient in Internet research and critical analysis.  Other: Windows 95 to Vista, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Access and Microsoft Excel. Excellent typing skills – on a QWERTY keyboard!
     International Travel
     Homeschooling English literacy to young children
     Available upon request            

This class is pretty strange.  Much of the time seems to be spent on pumping up the self esteem and confidence of all the other students (and me) – telling us things like, it’s hard, but you can do it etc… etc… So, the first week I just talked to them about my goals and listened to a pep talk. The second week, I brought this in, with a rough French translation, and figured they would help me fix it up.  Well, what they did instead was give me (and the other two souls) another half an hour pep talk about how capable I am and I should trust what I can do etc… etc…  Listen, I’m not trying to be obnoxious here, but look at my resume!  I realize I am a capable person, with many useful talents.  Then they told me that 1. I need to get my college transcript or diploma or no one will believe I graduated and 2.  I need to write a document detailing what it is I want to do.  Well, I tried to protest, I explained that above (see objective) – I want to get a job teaching English!  I hope my French will improve, of course, but at the end of the day I am not well versed enough in French language or culture to get a job in PR or marketing – plus I don’t really want to do that anyway.  My gut tells me to just go around to the schools in the area that claim they teach English, and see if they need anyone, but apparently that’s not the way it works in France.   For now I will probably humor them and search on my own simultaneously (after we get back from Ireland) and we will see ‘who is right, and who is dead.’ (Westley from The Princess Bride – best movie of all time).

The other 2 classes at ASEP are held on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings.  It is the same teacher and the same group both days.  It is an amazingly diverse crew.  We have students from Germany, Armenia, Algeria, Afghanistan, Turkey, West Africa, Morocco, Cambodia and, of course, the USA (that would be me).  It is men and women and covers ages from 30’s to probably 60’s.    It is a wonderfully mixed group and everyone is super friendly.  I am particularly enjoying getting to know one woman, named Lamia, better.  I wonder if it is the classroom environment, or if the culture is different, but the people in class are not afraid to reach out and touch each other – I really like that and have been missing it.   I have even been joking a bit in French – man – that is so cool!  Lamia is always dressed beautifully and coordinates her purse to match her head scarf.  After a few weeks of knowing her, I have to officially re-evaluate my blanket judgement that, since the 80’s are over, colorful eye shadow is always bad.  I think when you are wearing a gauzy blue or green head scarf, green and blue eyeshadow is the perfect accompaniment!  Lamia is an expert seamstress who, unfortunately, specializes in Algerian wedding garments.  This market does not really exist in France and she is struggling to find her new place in this culture.  I feel very lucky that I am not seeking political asylum, like some of the other students, and that I have the resources and education I need to find work.

We have practiced, so far, vocabulary and grammar related to shopping, visiting restaurants and making hotel reservations.  For me, this is all practical and useful, but for many of my classmates, who rarely travel or go out, I’m not so sure!  I do very well with reading and understanding what is written but my grammar stinks and also my conjugation skills.  It is fun to work with others and, although I don’t know if I am retaining anything yet – it can’t hurt to be speaking all French for 6 hours a week!  I think that part of my trouble, is that I don’t like French.  I mean, André waxes on and on about how it is such a beautiful language – so expressive, so wonderful etc…. but I’m just always wishing the Tower of Babel had never fallen and we could all go back to speaking one language (which would be English, of course!)  I mean, today we were working on the computer on getting the adjectives to agree with the nouns.   In French, every noun is either masculine or feminine, and the adjectives have to be as well.  The adjective was new.

In English In French
I have a new car J’ai une nouvelle voiture

I have a new computer

J’ai un nouvel ordinateur
I have 2 new computers J’ai 2 nouvels ordinateurs

I have 23 new pens

J’ai 23 nouvelles stylos
I have 4 new boys in gymnastics J’ai 4 nouveaux garcons dans gymnastiques
I have a new restaurant J’au un neuveau restaurant
Notice how the word “new” never changes in English.

Now, notice there are 5 different ways new is spelled in French – feminine singular and plural, masculine singular and plural and the crazy masculine singular and plural only to be used when the word new is followed by a noun that starts with a vowel – got it?

OK – like, that is just crazy – I mean, who cares??? It is frustrating though, because if you say nouvelle instead of nouveaux – French people don’t know what you are talking about. And it isn’t just adjectives that have to agree and reflect singular or plural it is also articles and probably lots of other stuff too.  I have tried to memorize some grammar rules, but they seem to fall out of my head.  Maybe it’s because, the whole time, I am feeling annoyed that these rules exist.  Perhaps, as I grow more as a person and embrace my new tongue, this will pass.

And then there are the words that sound the same – like ‘paté’ ‘patte’ and ‘pates’  These all sound very similar but mean liver spread, animal feet and pasta, respectively.  I almost got laughed out of the room when I told people I though it was funny that convertibles here are called decapitable (or beheaded, right? I mean, that is what happens when those things get in accidents, I figured it made sense)  Oh no!  Not decapitable, decapeautable (meaning taking off the cap)….. Hilarity ensues… but really, who can blame me?

Finally there are my two classes at the blue house – my local community center.  Yoga has restarted with the same group as last time and, in there, I mostly just say hello and then listen, trying to understand the instructions of the teacher.  There is a newer man in the class, however, who often gets into arguments with the teacher about the ‘right’ way to do poses etc… this stops the entire class and it is super irritating for me since this is the only time in my week that I totally dedicate to myself and peace.  I want to just say – shut up dude!

Last but not least I am attending a class for French people who want to learn to speak English better.  This is a super fun group of retirees who just come and try to learn.  They speak French more than half the time and spend tons of time translating back and forth.  I’m not sure if that is really good practice since they are there to speak English – but it is great for me since I get to learn lots of new cool things in French.  I also get to share my genuine American wisdom.  They love to hear me talk and read out loud.  It is fun to be in a place where you are not seen as a ‘stupid American’!  They are also practicing how to make hotel reservations etc…  I am glad to help out.

Oh, and today, at the supermarket I was totally excited to see that it is England week which meant they had real cheddar for sale!  I miss cheddar dearly and bought 4 packages.

In all, I am very very busy – but I am very social so all this interaction is good for my soul.

We will see how things go as time goes by.

A bientot….

1 comment:

Shana said...

Dear Rebecca, great to read about all this! you are really doing some of your own explorations now, not just for the kids. Good for you!!
...when I lived in France in 1998, I also tried to find work as an English teacher. It was really damn difficult, I have to warn you. I tried knocking on doors, visiting schools, answering newspaper advertisements. In the end, I succeeded at a business language school in Reims. It was a center for adult business education and they taught all kinds of languages. Even then, though, there was a huge amount of red tape they had to go through to hire me, and they weren't thrilled to do that when I'd only be there a few months. The experience was worth it in the end. I hope you have an easier time! I wonder if you'd do better to post little notices around that you're available for private tutoring.


hit counter