A Sudden Shift of Wind…

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

I have been operating my own business for 20 years now… I first started in Montréal under the name of Langplus: back then, I was working with large pharmaceutical companies, accounting and law firms, commercial insurance brokers… On site one-on-one French training was considered as luxury goods by employers and that privilege was saved up for Presidents, Vice-Presidents, CEOs and Partners. In the course of more than 10 years, I trained only two women who were partners in large accounting firms. In other words, I was offering and providing an exceptional service that was, most of the time, included in the annual performance bonuses of high ranked staff.

I often wondered how those people would have reacted if they had known that my previous clients were “guests” of Federal penitentiaries!… It made no difference at all in my book! but perhaps it would have in “theirs”… I never treated CEOs with more deference than my guys behind bars… in my eyes, both inmates and corporate executive officers deserved equal respect (I bet for a minute there you thought I treated the latter in a cavalier manner!)… Actually, my experience in prison taught me a few good lessons I never forgot and always applied in my business: you can exert your influence on someone without being either authoritarian or manipulative… but still asserting yourself. And of course, although younger than most of my corporate clients at the time, I was never impressed by them… I had been around hardened criminals and murderers long enough to learn not to judge people on what I saw: among them, there was an ex-lawyer sentenced to life in prison for having killed (with premeditation) his partner!… Each of us has the inner potential of crossing the fence, no matter what we do for our living!…

I have been digressing again… should I tell everyone I am the kind of person who likes smelling the roses along the way? When I write a post, don’t worry, I know exactly where I am going! Yet I cannot help it… I have to follow the thread of my thoughts and, sometimes, it takes me in Dreamland!!! However, I always come back to my initial topic…

Dès lors… de retour à mes moutons!

When I launched my business in Ottawa, mentality had changed a bit: I started teaching mixed groups (a first for me!) where there were more women than men… Since I had always taught to “male only” groups (and by no means standard!), I needed to adjust! It took me a while though… I was used to a different audience: a bunch of tough guys I was able to kick asses around without thinking twice because usually men get angry, but forget in no time! I quickly realized this approach did not work with women after I saw a couple of them burst into tears because I had asked them (and insisted in spite of their reluctance to do it) to conjugate the verb “être”! Some quit and the ones who stayed were real pain in the butt, because they had never forgotten the trauma I had inflicted them before their colleagues! Oh well… women are like that… so I tried my best to change my blunt manners and, to certain extent, I was successful.

There is one thing that never changed in the course of my practice: only people in management positions can have one-on-one training… Until not long ago, I always worked with people in their forties and fifties – aging crooners like myself (no offence! reality being we are no longer spring chicken folks!) – I could always relate to because we were products of the same generation… it was (and still is) easy to find some common interests to discuss in French…

Last November, I met ZZ… a young man who took one-on-one lessons with me for three months. Since he was quite advanced in French, we were able to have “real” conversations… the problem was to find some mutual interest we could discuss! Ô miracle!!! During a casual conversation on TV shows, we found out we were both addicted to the series LOST… Before the fourth season started in January, we went on a marathon and watched again the previous seasons on DVDs (at home, not in class!) and we always spent 30 to 45 minutes discussing our theories. We had found a connector and we forgot the age gap between us… I also realized how quick he was at refreshing or learning grammar rules and concepts. And I was quite impressed with his methodology… Of course, his school years were not that far behind him and he still remembered the terminology used in grammar (in English as well as in French).

Then, in March, I started one-one-one training with Jenn (my youngest student so far… 23 years old)… freshly out of McGill University, this young woman was a dream to work with… Teaching her was so easy… even when we were covering stuff she had never heard of before, she grasped it in no time and, most important, remembered and applied it immediately. Once again, in spite of our age gap, we connected right away… and we were never out of topics to discuss…

More recently, I started to train Susan and Jessica, both in their late twenties… they are savvy and it is easy to introduce complex notions because they absorb quickly. Actually, Susan is sooooooo enthusiastic with her French lessons, sometimes it is scary!… On the other hand, I really do appreciate it because she does not hesitate to put every effort in her learning and that only will help her to achieve her goal. With someone like her, I can set the bar very high and I know she will be able to eventually reach her full potential. Jessica was a bit more reserved when she started her training… the first time I could feel she was on guard… but I do think she is okay now… she is also a quick learner and I have no doubt she will reach her required level in French… I know I can push her (she is a smart cookie) so she will give me her best.

There is a shift of wind… I believe I will have more and more young fellows to train… if, at the beginning, I were not sure I could connect with this generation of young adults; I now see it differently… I do learn a lot from them… as much as they do learn from me…

“Il est aussi difficile de gouverner une maison pleine de filles que d’alimenter un grand feu avec des brindilles.”

Proverbe Tamil



  1. foreignlanguageteacher said,

    August 11, 2008 at 1:19 am

    I experienced my own little shift this past year. When I first began teaching high school French in 1990, I was only a few years older than my students. We had a lot in common, but establishing authority was a challenge. I taught younger children for most of my career, and just returned to the high school classroom last year. My students are happy to educate me on texting and music and life as they know it. I don’t relate as well to their culture, but I relate to them. I so enjoy their company, but I look at my students now and see kids–especially when I look into their eyes. Some say I’m like a mom!
    I can feel your affection for your students as you write about them. They are so lucky 🙂

  2. August 11, 2008 at 1:41 am

    You said it so well Diane: although we don’t relate too well to their culture, we still do relate to “them”… and I believe it is what counts the most!
    And… being with young people is a breath of fresh air: they aren’t jaded as many middle age folks are (unfortunately!).

    I admit I love my students… and I am, to certain extent, very protective of them: kind of a mother hen. As strange as it might sound, I also had lots of affection for my guys behind bars… under their tough skin, they were little boys crying in their cells at night!… And when I left to move on to the real world, it was quite emotional for me and for them…

    Thanks for your comment and sharing, it is always a pleasure to read about your own experience…

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