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August 2018 - Year 20 - Issue 4

ISSN 1755-9715

Retired EFL Teacher-Trainer Goes to One-to-One French Lessons

Mario is a Pilgrims associate and is particularly happy to have collaborated with Clarity in Hong Kong in the making of MINDGAME, a vocabulary learning game often known as Othello or Reversi. The MINDGAME CDROM has gone right round the world and been played by people of all ages. It is a classic and will never fall out-of-date like its two authors can so easily do. Mario’s co-author was Isobel Fletcher de Tellez!


Problem situation

I am retired and have time to play and experiment with both language and learning. My wife is half-French by blood and was brought up in France. Now our children have flown the nest she simply cannot bring herself to speak to me in French.  She tells me she finds me pompous and annoying in her mother tongue.

A relative who I did not yet know from the French side of the family came to UK for a week-end and I found myself so eager to talk to him about many different topics that I tied myself in knots and began making stupid B1 type errors. My normal level in French is around C1, just about OK for giving plenaries at a conference.


At 77, am I losing my marbles?

Fearing that this might be the case, I got a list of local native speakers of French who offer private language lessons. I rang each of them up to get a feel of their language competence. Most were women with English husbands whose native language was withering, through isolation from their home language community. I found one person, Helene, who has a son and granddaughter in Strasbourg and who spends 2-3 months a year with them over there, effortlessly renewing her mother tongue. Another good thing about this lady is her scorching French accent when speaking English.....almost as unyieldingly absurd as Churchill’s phonology when trying to talk what he fondly believed was French.


The joy of being guided and helped

After many years using French as best I could with my children, with my wife, with family and friends from Francophonia and with FLE teacher trainees, the feeling of being usefully corrected and having my language powerfully enriched is pure pleasure and feels like a delicious regression. I have a kind of  ”Language-Mummy” again. In English I have around 10 ways of saying that someone has kicked the bucket, including the loathsome euphemism: “he’s passed”.  I guess I now have seven or eight ways of saying the same thing in French. Thank you Helene!


The challenge of being pushed into a zone of mild discomfort

Helene is a fast speaker and when she gives me a dictation I have to take all my decisions about double or single letters, diacritics and the rest at high speed. When I manage to do this without asking her to slow down I am really chuffed. (Spelling is a weak area for me in any FL)

We sometimes work from a book that teaches useful rules of thumb for translating from English into French, suggesting the use of different syntactic patterns as you move from one language into the other.  I often do this exercise inadequately so when I get it right first time I feel as though I am gazing out over the view after stomping up a mountain to its peak.


Cherchez la faute (hunting mistakes)

In the translation exercises above I have great fun ferreting out instances of the author of the book “over-translating” and being too clever by half.  Helene clings on to the authority of the didactic text and we have a ding-dong battle over who is right, the author or me. I love a quarrel over language. I have a choleric temperament and listen like a hawk for any mistakes Helene makes in French. There was a great moment when she confused  “poignet” (door handle) and “poignee” (wrist) ....her flabby excuse was that you don’t talk about door handles that often! The two words are identical in sound, their primary manifestation.

She and I share a dislike of ugly borrowings from English into French and she helps me find the earlier term used before the cuckoo English word nested. I enjoy the warmth of agreement with Helene as much as the clarions of the battlefield.


Helene in full flow

I learn most when Helene is in full flow, when moaning about something she hates or gossiping about people in her family or circle of friends. Then she really feeds me linguistically and I leave the room we work in with a feeling brimming satisfaction. She is at her best when she is an Alpine torrent, brooking (sorry) no interruption.  Her self-centred need to express her thoughts and feelings fully is just the stuff I need. Lord save me from a well-trained good listener with decent social skills, of whom you will find many among teachers in Pilgrims, where I used to teach.


Your reactions?

How do you react to the above descriptions of my interactions with my teacher?

Some people could feel:

 “Thank the Lord I don’t often get students like him, bumptious brat he is.”

Others may feel “Well, if a student can articulate his needs clearly you know where you stand and have been given clear marching orders. Let’s hope the student is right about his needs.”

Why not write to HLT if you feel like commenting on this student view of his own learning?  Have you found coping with an FL has helped you in your job as a teacher and if so, how?

  • Retired EFL Teacher-Trainer Goes to One-to-One French Lessons
    Mario Rinvolucri, UK

  • The Role of Creativity in the Classroom
    Viviana N. Miglino, Argentina

  • Creativity in My Classroom
    Eleni Tsagari, Greece