This morning was our weekly class with Eugene, Julia and Nina.
Before we parted, we talked about the situation in their country, Ukraine and how hard it is for them to adapt here. Their French level is really advanced but they feel like it is not enough to live and work in France.
“Don’t say it with your project is to go back”. That’s what I advised them to tell when in a job interview.
I can see the sadness in their eyes and their smiles. Their heart is with the missing ones. They remind me of the Syrian people I met back in the beginning of the war in their country. Heartbroken to see that the whole world would keep turning like nothing changed.
While wars still go on.
Home, career, future: it is not by choice that you leave everything behind you. And at least when you do have an everything behind you. What about all those, I told them, who have nothing left but hope when they go through seas, deserts and unfriendly places, looking for a better life?
It breaks your heart when you realize that some people have a destiny you may never be at risk and even able to face yourself.
Now waiting for the bus, another day of strike in France, I turn the last pages of French journalist Florence Aubenas’ book, Le Quai de Ouistreham. Her undercover investigation about the precarity of cleaning jobs is of public interest. More than 10 years after this book was published, the yellow jackets protests started in France.
It breaks your self-esteem when you are stuck and silenced in a meaningless life.
The bus has eventually made it. This is another summer day safe in France. The sun is bright and the sky is blue. Everything seems under control except that we face another heat wave.
No one knows if this is the calm before the storm.
A few months ago, I met someone who was living in France for 10 years and since he didn’t need French for work – he worked in the wine business industry -, he didn’t practice it and / or didn’t find it necessary to learn it.
A few days ago, the same situation happened: a man called and said that his wife, who moved to Dijon a few years ago now, just found it necessary to learn more the language because she faces difficulties to get a job. He wanted to know how I could help.
I decided that I am not the right teacher for this profile of learner. Do you know why?
I don’t know how to deal with them. Sincerely.
Because the first question one needs to ask himself as soon as he arrives in a new country and by the way, as soon as he decides to move in another country* HAS to be:
*of course, I am not talking about a situation of emergency when people are forced to leave their home and migrate (they have all my respect 🙏)
A language is a key that will allow you to open the door of a new country / city / community and BECOME A PART OF IT.
Without the language, you stay at the door.
So for your own good, please take a moment and write down things you like and hobbies you have, anything you want as long as they can fit the four skills and then keep doing them but in French:
listening / talking
reading / writing
Do you like sports? Follow instagram accounts of famous local sport teams (in France: football, cycling, etc.).
Do you like make-up vloggers? Look for French Youtubers
Can you sew? Join a sewing group, etc.
Also, the very first thing you need to do as soon as you arrive in France is to go get a library card! 😍Most of the time, it’s cheap or even FREE such as in Dijon.
You will be able to borrow plenty of books, DVDs, etc. in French, know more about local events, meet new people, have more confidence and one day, without even realizing it: you will be fluent! Of course, it’s a process: even natives make grammar mistakes, etc. it’s normal.
To me, being fluent in French is not about knowing the language perfectly (who can do that?), it’s more about feeling comfortable because YOU BELONG HERE.
Do you know what I answered to the man asking for help on behalf of his wife?
I asked if they have children (yes) and why she didn’t call me herself (she speaks French a littlebut didn’t feel confident).
I said that I could obviously make them pay for French lessons but it would be wrong because it’s not the problem here.
When you help your children with their homework in French, when you go to the library or attend local events as a family or when you challenge yourself with actions such as calling someone you don’t know to ask for information, it makes you BE IN CHARGE.
So you feel more and more confident.
💪And you don’t have time to look back because you are too busy looking forward and widening your comfort zone.
➨ Present tense to relate to present actions AND talk about the person’s likes and dislikes
Even if you talk about something in the past, don’t forget the fact that some things will still be conjugated with permanent present.
Toi qui aimes les châteaux, j’ai pensé à toi car celui-ci est vraiment magnifique sans parler de son immense parc de plus de 30 hectares !
Son plus célèbre propriétaire était le comte Roger de Bussy-Rabutin, né en 1618 et mort en 1693. Il était général des armées royales de Louis 14e, l’un des plus célèbres rois de France, et pas vraiment fan de liberté d’expression…
En effet, il va exiler Bussy-Rabutin pour avoir ouvertement dit du mal des mœurs et du libertinage de la cour. Le roi décide de l’envoyer chez lui en Bourgogne pour le punir.
Franchement, entre nous qui ne voudrait pas se faire confiner ici ?
Pour s’occuper, Bussy-Rabutin va alors écrire ses mémoires et entretenir une correspondance active avec ses amis et sa famille. Il va aussi faire décorer son château avec plus de 500 portraits des membres de la cour, un peu comme un feed Instagram !
➨ Prepare the end of your email or letter
Adverbs are always interesting, for example to express when something happens.
Aujourd’hui, on peut visiter tout ça car le château appartient à l'État depuis 1929 et c’est lui qui se charge de son entretien et de l’ouvrir aux visiteurs.
➨ Talk about your hopes for the future with first group verb
espérer (present tense) + que + subject + verb conjugated with future tense
J’espère que cette lettre des temps modernes te plaira et que tu auras pu* imaginer la paix et la beauté de cette magnifique journée.
*be careful “auras pu” is “futur antérieur” of the verbe “pouvoir”! This tense is used to talk about an action in the future but still coming before another future action.
➨ Use proper greetings (2)
If you know the person closely, you can use “à bientôt”, “à plus” (= “à plus tard” meaning “see you later” OR “see you soon” here in this context) or “prends soin de toi* (take care)”, etc.
*definitely not for someone you don’t know or in a professional context!
First, many French people didn’t read Le Petit Prince — or other classics by the way — even if they praise it and would fight tooth and nail for it!
Most of the time, they just studied some extracts at school. Only two categories of people would read the entire books:
the motivated ones
those interested by literary studies.
Second, you have to know that even natives may have difficulties to understand Le Petit Prince because it is complex since it is about imagination and poetry!
Thus it is absolutely normal if you face the same difficulties. One has to be really advanced in the language to understand the implicit, etc.
Also, thinking about it, French literature is not set in stone: there are so much treasures to discover and promote…
For example, did you know that Simone de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine’ sister, was also a writer? She was older than him and when he started to be famous, he didn’t want another writer in the family (!). Despite that, she was a dedicated sister since she protected her brother’s work until the end of her life in 1978.
Their descendants, reporting they didn’t know why she didn’t do it herself, published her uncompleted but interesting childhood memories book, Cinq enfants dans un parc, to commemorate the centenary of the birth of her brother in 2000.
I really want to pay tribute here to unknown or lesser-known authors like Simone de Saint-Exupéry who was not just “Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s sister”, but a person, a woman and a writer in her own right.
People like her make me reflect a lot on what is — or not — considered as major books and authors “you have to know”…
Anyway, there are so much great books to read out there so make your own way!
This being said, you will find below some reading advice if it can help:
1) Read books in French that you have already read in your language
Since you know the story, it will help you (and you can find bilingual versions if you want to take it slowly).
2) Read French versions of “must-read” books from all over the world
➨ Classics published in bilingual versions: check out this page
➨ Short texts:for exemple an engaged essay, Indignez-vous ! by Stéphane Hessel (30 pages), an outstanding French diplomat, resistant, writer and activist who addressed a beautiful message to the French people in 2010 (3 years before his death) about what they fought for in the past and shouldn’t forget. You also have La préférence nationale and other short stories, first book by Fatou Diome who shared her experience of immigration in France with a unique and brilliant style.
Recently, I was lucky enough to meet Emiko Shibata, Teacher of Japanese, who lives in Dijon since the 1980’s. Born in Kyoto, she came in France to graduate in Lettres Modernes and after teaching French in Japan, she came back here to teach Japanese!
We talked about her life, how she met dozens of french students yearning to learn japanese language and culture and of course her opinion about Dijon and French people.
Since she experienced both the way of life in Japan and in France, she knows how to take a step back on stereotypes so here is the big news: Japanese and French people have lots in common 😀
Check out the video
As an MFL Teacher, I like that sort of feedbacks.
First, because I would like to take after more experienced teachers than me and be able to teach French language and culture as parts of an infinity of languages and cultures. All precious and valuable.
Second, because we all tend to fall into this trap: “she is from there so she must be this“, “he wears this, it means that“. But the truth is that is exactly what taints the relationship with each other and prevents us to be open to anyone who is different.
Third, because it takes time to grow and get mature. If we don’t accept listening to others, it means we also refuse to learn more about ourselves. And that’s how you stagnate.
“As soon as people from different countries take part in something, it becomes greater” Emiko Shibata