I do not Achieve Miracles! But!… With “un zeste de” Patience and Common Sense…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Learning a second language is not easy (especially French… so have I been told!)… and, whatever approach you take, there is no fast way to do it. It takes time (lots of time! therefore be patient!), motivation, effort and hard work. Unfortunetaly, there are no short-cuts and anyone who promises you some fast-track or crash courses will no be able to deliver (so, when looking for either a language school or a private tutor, if you hear something like this… it should raise a red flag!). I do know what I am talking about because I have been teaching French as a second language for more than 20 years. I am no miracle achiever and… no one is!

I was not supposed to be a Corporate FSL Program Developer and Trainer to begin with… I ended up in this field, let’s say by accident. I actually was a French Literature Specialist! For some time, at the beginning of my career, I worked as a Pedagogical Advisor and French Literature Professor for a private college… my assignment though was with the Correctional Service of Canada. Inmates who wished to get a higher education or complete their studies had the opportunity to do it behind bars (they still can do so)… Based in a medium security penitentiary located in the province of Québec, one day, I saw a fresh herd of Anglos unable to communicate in French land in Cowansville Wonderland Resort: that was a problem! Most people there (staff and guests) were unilingual French! Consequently, I had been asked to try and teach them French on my spare time (as if I had any!). I was not “thrilled” with the idea, but hey! I always loved challenges!

Since I had been quite successful at injecting enthusiasm for French Literature Classics into a bunch of guys covered with disgusting spiders, macabre skulls and sweet “I love my mom” from head to toes (of course I am referring to their spooky tatoos!), I thought it would be a piece of cake! I purchased numerous books and started to teach FSL… Oh my dear God! I could read the message on these Anglos’ faces: What in the world are you talking about? Get the hell out of here! So I bought other books… and other books… and some more… until I exhausted everything that was on the market back then! Always that blank look!… But! I just could not surrender! I am very stubborn you see!…

Unable to find any satisfying pedagogical materials to work with (of course, everything was there grammaticaly speaking… but the order used to introduce new notions, concepts and rules was just unbelievably wrong!), I sat and decided to seriously ponder upon the problem at hand.

My first questions were: how would I learn best a foreign language myself and how would I be able to retain and integrate all my new knowledge with enough confidence to try and use it? The answers were: by being able to make connections with my mother tongue (without literally translating though!) and by gradually adding new notions and blending them with the previous ones until they become a reflex.

I had noticed that most methods were divided into specific sections and, at no point, there were any connections made between the different rules, notions and concepts. For instance, if students were learning the imparfait, they would be working exclusively with this tense. They would never be introduced with exercises or situations forcing them to use ALL the existing past tenses in French. Eventually, they would be briefed on the concordance des temps, but it would always remain abstract in their minds.

For me, knowing how to conjugate verbs is a must, but I spend much more time teaching the usage of all different tenses and moods, so that the time-line of a message is not confusing for the listeners (most of the time, Francophones switch to English because they simply do not get the message… the core of a message is transmitted through the verbs and if those are misused, this message is then lost forever!).

I finally came up with what I call an interactive progressive method. Thanks to my tough demanding guys in Cowansville, I was able to use them as guinea pigs (for their own good should I say!) in the process of designing and validating it. Useless to say that, each time I would see that look on their faces, I would go back to my work bench and find another way to catch their undivided attention!… I now have a top notch product that I use for all types of training (tutoring, corporate training, etc.)

It consists of 6 books (from beginner to advanced levels) of which the first 2 are dedicated to the basics of French (a house without solid foundations will collapse sooner or later!)… the stucture of simple sentences, the pronouns, the annoying little words (prepositions, articles, possessive, demonstrative, etc.) and everything essential to a good understanding of a message. By the time my students are finished with those, they are ready to enter a more complex world because all the basics are well integrated and they can focus on more difficult notions.

 I am no genius… I am only someone who actually made the time to work on a better way to teach and facilitate learning (by putting myself in my students’ shoes!). And none of my former or present students ever complained: indeed they all say that, for the very first time of their lives, they finally get it! I am concerned with only one thing… GET RESULTS… And, trust me! Results I always get…

I do use the same method to teach civil servants although the ultimate purpose of their training is to pass tests… there is no need for me to teach them to the tests because the approach I use allows them to achieve both: pass their written/reading/oral tests and communicate efficiently in French… Instead of having the feeling of being tortured during their months of intensive training, they have fun and value the opportunities bilinguism offers them…

This blog moved here, if you ever are interested in reading more about those issues…



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