Tag Archive | expat

French school

With my second at interview at BTL scheduled for Monday June 28, I didn’t think I’d be starting work until the following week. Hence I decided to enrol in French language classes. Although I’m speaking a little more than I was at the beginning, I’m astounded by how much I’ve forgotten, and think the refresher will be useful.

I arrive at Ecole France Langue at 8am for my entrance test, which will determine what level I am. The test gets progressively harder, and while I’m confident at the beginning, that confidence soon deteriorates as I stop knowing and start guessing the answers to questions.

When I’m finished, a man takes me to another room to have a chat in French and to correct my test. I only said about 5 words, but I think my accent being fairly decent and my comprehension led him to believe that my level of fluency is higher than it actually is. Then he attacked my test with his red pen. I breathed a sigh of relief as he started doing little ticks – tick, tick, tick – suddenly, a big red cross! And another. And more! Some of the questions I hadn’t read correctly and had to answer them verbally (and passed with flying colours), but by the end of the massacre my test was a mess of red ink.

He looked at the test, sighed, and then looked at me. “I don’t know what to do with you.”

Really? I thought. You’re not the only one.

Apparently I demonstrated knowledge of a number of advanced parts of the language, but I also made a lot of elementary mistakes. This meant that he didn’t know what level to put me in. I left him to the decision, and somehow I ended up in level B2 (upper-intermediate), which I think is a level higher than I was last time. Don’t ask me how I’ve progressed, not having spoken nor read any French in years.

Learning a foreign language as an adult is like going to school as a child again. Not only does your ability to communicate drop to that of a primary school student, but there’s a larger focus on games as a method of learning. As an adult, you get used to receiving lectures and taking notes. When learning a language, you are expected to speak more than the teacher does, and games are a good way to ensure this.

How many students can you get into a phone booth - first attempt

For example, when I arrived on the Wednesday our class had been put into the same room as another. A woman then told us we were going on ‘missions’ – there were six stages we would have to complete over the next three hours, each of which would involve us having to ask people in the streets for help so we could answer questions or take photos of certain things. For our first stage, my team and I had a sheet of paper with eight photos on it, which we had to replicate, as well as going to one of the school’s other offices and taking a photo of someone who worked there.

My team and I identified the first few images, and suddenly the other two girls started running for the targets –

How many students can you get into a phone booth - second attempt

I don’t remember the last time I saw that kind of enthusiasm at school. When we went to the school and took a photo of one of the teachers giving a class, I was politely explaining what we were doing as I took the photo, while one of my team mates had already run back to the front door and was calling out ‘hurry up Jolie – we’ll lose!’

Now, I’m all for winning, but it was a hot day and I was in a skirt. And it was just a class activity – it’s not like there were any prizes (go on – ridicule me for being soulless and for having forgotten how to be childlike).

Other challenges included finding a museum and getting photos there, fitting as many students as we could into a phone booth (see the photos – entertaining, but very sweaty), taking a photo with a child, getting the brochure from a chocolate shop and matching shop names to pictures of products that they sold. It was fun, but it was in the low 30s and most of us had tired of the activity before the three hours were up.

The ability to communicate (or lack thereof) is the other childlike aspect to learning a foreign language as an adult. Grown men and women start to act like eight-year-olds, being attached to their ideas, but not knowing how to express them. I did a month of language school in Vichy at the end of 2006, and I grew incredibly distressed when I couldn’t say what I wanted (one time I was close to tears). This time I’m more detached, which makes it more amusing to watch other people get increasingly passionate about little things. There were two girls in my class in particular – one of them clearly felt very strongly about a number of issues, but because she couldn’t say everything she wanted to, her volume would just increase and her gestures would get bigger as her monologues continued. The other would get extraordinarily attached to grammatical structures, or he said/she said debates, and because she couldn’t use many words she would just keep repeating the same couple of statements – it didn’t seem to matter how many times the teacher said he knew, she would keep saying the same thing until she realised she was just saying the same thing.

Do I think the week at school helped my French? Yes, in the sense that it got me speaking again. However, I don’t think I was there long enough for it to stick, and the fact that I speak English at work means it will be a while before I start having in-depth conversations in everyday life.

TEFL Interviews – second round

Of my interviews, BTL and ICB were the only contenders. After my Wednesday interview, BTL called me back on the Friday to organise an interview on Monday with a gentleman called Paul, who would be asking me pedagogical questions.

We met at 9am, and he asked me a number of questions, including the following:

  • How would you use a newspaper article in a lesson?
  • Explain the difference between the present perfect and the past simple.
  • What would you do to make a shy student more confident?
  • What games could you play in the classroom?
  • What information would you need to know about your students before the class begins?
  • How would you expose your students to different accents?
  • How much would you use course books in a class?
  • How would you structure your average lesson?

Luckily, Renée had asked me the first three questions in my first interview, so I had ready-made answers for those. As for the others, I had revised some of my TEFL course on the weekend, so I was quite confident by the end of the interview.

Afterwards, Paul went to speak to Renée about me. After a few minutes he returned, saying that she was on the phone to the company director, but that I shouldn’t be waiting for too long, and gave me a course book to look over.

Sometime later, Paul returned and said that the company director wanted to meet me. I panicked inwardly – did Renée tell Paul that she’d asked me the same questions? Was I in trouble for cheating?

When the director was ready, I was escorted to his office. I entered the room meekly – like entering the principal’s office – but he immediately put me at ease. A tall, tanned man with impeccably styled, greying hair, he was the very image of a French businessman from the Riviera. Then he started speaking to me in a Cheltenham accent (English Cheltenham, not Australian Cheltenham). We sat on opposite sides of his desk, and he asked me to tell him about myself – education, work experience, teaching experience, etc. Every time I started a sentence, he would start talking and go off on a tangent for about 5mins, then remind himself that he was learning about me and ask me another question (which would lead to him going off on another tangent). As a result, it was the most enjoyable interview I’ve ever had – he was very entertaining and there were a lot of laughs.

Later he said that he really didn’t need to interview me – Paul and Renée already wanted to hire me – but just wanted to meet me to see what type of person I was, and whether students were likely to come back to see me for class week after week (he thought they would). He called Renée in her office to organise a time for me to come back to receive my official offer of employment and, after two hours of interviewing, I had a two hour break before I had to return and shake hands.

To celebrate my triumph (and to give my poor, blistered feet a rest after two days walking in heels) I decided to go out for lunch. After walking for another 45mins in heels (it took that long to find a place that looked decent with spare tables), I sat down in a brassiere. After 10mins I was reminded why I don’t like to eat out alone. The waiter approached me and I asked for the menu.

“For food?” he asked.

“. . . yes.”

Then he took one of the blackboards with the menu from the wall, sat it on the chair opposite me, and started to read it aloud to me in English. The two chic French women on the table next to me looked on. I was mortified!

Luckily I had an ‘official offer’ meeting to brighten my spirits. So, the verbal offer was made on the Monday afternoon, and I signed my contract on the Tuesday morning. The next two mornings I was at the office for induction activities.

Wednesday’s induction was with an awesome American called Dan for three or four hours. He told me about the school, did a grammar refresher course (my grammar’s quite good, but he went through the six main grammar questions that French students ask and gave me succinct answers for them so I already have them on hand), and brainstormed some classroom activities. We then picked up the folders for my first scheduled lessons (next Tuesday) and I did some lesson plans for them, on which he provided feedback. We then went to the teachers’ lounge and bemoaned French bureaucracy and how difficult it can be to get set up (I’m struggling with the bank account, but that can wait for another post).

On Thursday I had Microsoft Outlook training with an English guy called Jeffrey (very cute in his mid-thirties with greying hair – no wedding ring, but I can’t tell if he’s gay or not. He’s very well groomed and very proper, but he might just be English). As I’ve had a number of office jobs, this didn’t take very long, and we then went onto my lesson plans for next week. After briefly looking at what I did yesterday, we returned to the teachers’ lounge and he pulled out useful worksheet after useful worksheet, and showed me useful book after useful book, and gave me useful classroom activity idea after useful classroom activity idea – they were all great, but I’m just not sure how to fit them into my courses with the course book, without overwhelming the students.

The good things about the Outlook training were that I got to see my calendar, which is filling up quickly. On Wednesday I had two hour-and-a-half classes next week. Now I have 16 hours worth of classes (once I’m settled in, it should be around 20-25 hours a week – at €16.5 an hour, this is less than I was earning in London, but I suppose that’s the price I’ll pay for living in Paris) and the first one is on Monday. Wish me luck!

TEFL Interviews

I had set up four interviews in Teaching English as a Foreign Language before I left. One of my TEFL teachers said to never accept the first job you’re offered. Looking at the rundown of each job’s conditions below, I can see why.

Interview 1 – Formaland, 18/06/10

This school was just outside of Paris (surprising), but teachers get sent to companies in Paris to run courses. Each course is 20 hours split into 1.5 hour classes twice a week – no materials are provided to the teachers, so the teachers need to create the whole 20-hour course from scratch based on the results of the students’ initial placement tests. Already this is unappealing – although I have a good knowledge of English and have a TEFL qualification, I don’t have any real teaching experience, so I don’t think I would be capable of doing this.

A teacher would only start with one contract (so two 1.5 hour sessions a week), and then get more contracts based on student feedback – this means it could be a while until this job would cover my living expenses. The pay is 25 Euros (I don’t remember whether this was an hour or a class) for one-on-one lessons and 30 Euros for group lessons (the groups get up to 4 or 5 students). There would be no paid preparation time which, considering the amount of preparation time required in the job, greatly lessens the hourly rate.

They wanted to hire me. I don’t want to work for them. I haven’t gotten back to them yet, as I’d like to hear from some of my other interviews first, but I don’t think I’ll accept this even if I get nothing else – I just don’t think I’m capable.

Interview 2 – Transfer, 21/06/10


This school was in one of Paris’s main shopping areas (the Opera district, down the road from Printemps and not far from the Galleries Lafayette), so it’s probably a good thing that we get sent to schools, as working in this area would not be good for my budget.

Materials are provided but it’s up to me to choose how I use them, so I have freedom over my lesson plans. Students are automatically given levels based on their initial test results. In busy times I could expect 6 hour days at 18.21 an hour, in slower periods I’d only be working 3 hour days. In slower periods I can negotiate more work on the side.

Class sizes are usually 5-6 (10 students at the most), and 50% of your travel expenses are covered in central Paris.

Downside? There wasn’t actually a job available; they just wanted to meet me for future reference.

Interview 3 – BTL, 22/06/10

I received an email for this job when I was between France and Australia, asking if I’d be able to do an interview on the 16th and start immediately, assuming things went well. I tried to call on the 15th and the 16th, but Renée (the interviewer) was in meetings. I then emailed, and she suggested an initial phone interview on the 22nd. Don’t ask me why there was so much urgency in the original email.

So I originally rang up for the phone interview using Skype, but because the internet connection is really bad where I’m living for the moment (more details next email), I ended up disconnecting a couple of times. As I didn’t have a French sim card yet, Renée, the interviewer, called me back on my Aussie phone, which charges me when I receive calls over here. My credit ran out in 5 minutes (I’ve learned my lesson – I bought a French sim as soon as the call was dropped).

Interview 3; take two – BTL, 23/06/10

I waited in reception for 10 minutes, during which time I was referred to as ‘the Jolie girl’ (I know – I already have a reputation. One of the girls in the office was the one on reception the day before when I was calling for the interview).

In this job materials are provided and they offer a lot of assistance to new teachers – you meet with a coordinator every week to get feedback on lesson plans and there are regular out-of-hours training sessions. All of the teachers use the same series of books, which helps course quality remain consistent, reduces preparation time, and makes it easier if you’re new.

The pay is 16 Euros an hour, 60% of your lunch is covered, 50% of your travel expenses are covered and you get paid holiday leave, which is calculated pro-rata (12% of the time you’ve been teaching). They also give free French lessons starting in October – 1.5 hours a day.

Classes range from individual to 6 or 7, and in busy times I could expect 20-25 hours a week.

So far this has been the most appealing position. However, I may have messed up the interview. We were getting along really well just talking about my background and the job details, and then she decided to quiz me on some class room situations – one was how I’d teach the present perfect tense, another was how I’d use an article in a classroom setting, and I don’t remember the third. I crashed and burned – generally I started well, but ran out of steam after one or two examples. The problem is that I did my TEFL course in the second half of last year, starting in July/August and finishing in early November. For anyone else considering doing this – do your course in the few months before you travel, or revise before you leave.

The interviewer actually made a comment that this is why BTL is weary of online courses (my course consisted of 100 hours online and 20 hours in person). Trinity and Cambridge seem to be respected here. I did i-to-i, thinking that because it’s the one STA Travel organises (though I went directly to the company) it must be a good one. Although the course was good, it didn’t provide teaching experience, so going to Asia first to get some experience may have been more sensible than coming straight to France.

Interview 4 – ICB Europe, 23/06/10

My fourth interview was a two-hour group interview with ICB. The school’s office was in a great little area, right near the Rue Montorgueil.

There were seven of us in the group – four girls and three guys, and I was the only one not from the UK. All of us either had a TEFL qualification, or had tutoring experience. We should find out the results of the interview next week, at which point the successful candidates will get a one-on-one interview.

This school has a training department where everyone gets a 3 hour session before they start to determine whether they need some more training or whether they are ready to go out to companies.

Classes, as with all the other schools, are based in companies and teachers can expect 25 hours a week. Unfortunately we don’t get to find out any details about payment until the second interview.

I performed much better in this interview. We started with a general introduction to the school, then had two written tests – one on grammar (ten sets of questions, each starting with a sentence that you had to correct, then explain what the problem was, how you fixed it and why you fixed it) and one on financial services terms (I knew about half of them and made up the other half – argh, if only it had been a year ago when I was in London reading finance articles for work!) – then a general discussion. This morning’s interview’s discussions about classroom activities had given me some examples I could use, so I plagiarised them and think I did quite well :p

Expat anxiety

It’s interesting – I finished my uni exams at the end of 2007, then left Melbourne for London for 18-months. So far this trip has been different to my London one. Not just because it’s a different place, but because I’m different. I don’t seem to know how to relax here – I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not as tough as I was when I first started travelling, but I feel a bit like being taken care of, as if I’m not ready to rush into the French rat-race just yet. I left home because I didn’t want to be trapped in a 9-5 world that wasn’t leading anywhere. I wanted to be free, yet I don’t seem to have found the escape for which I was looking.

I know that I shouldn’t be expecting my life to sort itself out immediately, and that it’s difficult to be carefree when I don’t have a permanent roof over my head or an income coming in, but I almost wish that I already knew whether or not I was going to find work soon. If I knew that I wasn’t, then I could go travelling for a couple of months. If I knew that I was, then I could commit to life in Paris.

I haven’t been committing yet. Formerly I would have immersed myself immediately. If someone started talking to me, I would have a conversation in French. I would compensate for any of my verbal failings with laughs and batting eyelashes; playing on the flirtatiousness of the language.

This time I have been lazy. Torn between wanting to stay here and wanting to travel, having a friend from London here for my first week also prevented immediate immersion. Then, as I realised how bad my French had gotten, I avoided speaking. If someone spoke English, I wouldn’t even try, and if someone approached me in the street, I would pretend that I didn’t speak French.

Almost French - Sarah Turnbull

On the plane, I started reading a book that I received as a gift before I left – Almost French by Sarah Turnbnull. It’s an Aussie journalist writing of her experiences in Paris. On my second day here I was reading it when my visiting Londoner was napping – I was so frustrated that I was merely reading about Paris instead of experiencing the amazing world that was right on my doorstep! Now, one week later, I don’t want to put it down. I’m in the final couple of chapters and I’m trying not to read it too quickly, because once I finish I’ll be forced to have my own adventures instead of vicariously devouring someone else’s. It’s like I’m about to lose a  friend who had already experienced everything I’m going to, and then it will just be me against the world.