Teaching French Across the World
Salut! My name is Verity Roat and I am a freelance translator and tutor (among other things…but isn’t that always the way with self-employed life?). I have been fully freelance since February 2019, but I have been teaching French for the last seven years. The majority of French I have taught has been one-to-one sessions with either students preparing for their French GCSE, ‘A’ level or other exams, or people working in the business sector, hoping to improve their French to further their careers. However, in recent years I have been fortunate enough to accept two French teaching positions abroad: the first in Morocco; the second on a cruise to Canada (which is actually where I am writing this post from!)
In 2016, as part of my Year Abroad during my degree in French and Arabic at the University of Cambridge, I decided to volunteer in Morocco for sixth months for a charity called Moroccan Children’s Trust. To prepare for this venture, I spent two months in the capital of Morocco, Rabat, learning the Moroccan Dialect (it is a little-known fact that actually Arabic is not one single language, but actually a series of very different dialects, linked by one common standard language, based on Quranic Arabic). When I arrived in Taroudannt in the south of Morocco, where the charity is based, I was asked if I would like to hold a French class for the primary-aged children, particularly those in their final year who would be sitting their final exams in French that summer.
It was an incredible experience, at times very rewarding, at others incredibly daunting. Firstly, I had to teach the lessons predominantly in Moroccan Arabic, a language which I was only just going a handle on, and I was on my own, as there was a shortage of staff meaning that there was no one available to act as my teaching assistant. In terms of the French required, it was all topics I was familiar with; nonetheless, I was surprised at the high level of French the children were expected to know; for example, they were learning the subjunctive at age 12! (Anyone who has ever learned French knows the difficulty of this particular ‘mood’, but for context, it is only taught at ‘A’ level/university in England). Furthermore, unlike with English GCSE or ‘A’ level students, I was not provided with a syllabus, so it was a case of looking at the children’s school textbooks and deciding what needed to be taught. This meant I was constantly reassessing, based on how well the children received the lessons. Finally, the class was made up of children of different ages, meaning that their abilities varied wildly. Nevertheless, I felt like I really made a difference to their education and was incredibly proud with how much they all improved and, where applicable, how they performed in their exams.
Moreover, I think my personal highlight of this particular teaching venture was the fact that I was able to set up a French-language penfriend scheme for my students with some students in England. Before I left for Morocco, I was working with a charity-led initiative called Routes into Languages, which was working to encourage British children to take up languages at GCSE, ‘A’ level and beyond! As such, I was connected with a secondary school in Norfolk and was able to pair my students in Morocco with students in Year 9 and 10 classes in the U.K. The children then wrote letters to each other in French. Despite the infamously slow postal service in Morocco, the children were able to send some letters back and forth to each other during the six months I spent with them and I believe the project continued for some time afterwards. More information about this can be found here. This project was so amazing, because it not only provided the children with an actual, real-life way to put their language skills into functional practice, but it also allowed them to gain insight into a culture they never would have otherwise experience. This was true for both the British and Moroccan students and I know for a fact that the Moroccan children loved writing letters, making presents and receiving letters back.
As I said above, I am currently sat on a cruise ship writing this article. Late last year, I was offered the opportunity to set sail with the Saga Sapphire to Canada, teaching French on sea days. It has been an amazing experience so far, both on ship and off, when we have explored St. Johns, Gaspé and Sept-Îles (the latter two allowing me and my students plenty of chances to speak French!) and we still have Montreal, Quebec, Halifax and Sydney to go!
My role has been to teach French to the passengers on days when we are at sea and it has been an incredibly interesting and enjoyable job. The passengers are all over 50, so, unlike my usual students who are preparing for work or want to learn French for business, the majority of them have studied French at some point in the past and are looking to improve for the sheer enjoyment of it. This has been utterly wonderful for me, because it means I can really tailor my classes to the interests of my students without worrying about sticking to any set curriculum. It also means we can speed through some of the…let’s say, less interesting parts of learning a language, such as grammar, because many of them already have a good handle on these points and just need a little refreshing. This has meant that when I have been wandering around the ports we stop in, I have been on the look out for materials to use and so far have provided my students with a text from a monument about Shanawidhit, the last native Canadian in St. Johns, and a poem about Innu life in Sept-Îles.
However, this job has provided a couple of challenges. The biggest has been the fact that, once again, the ability levels have been incredibly varied. I was initially asked to provide one lesson per day, but after the first day, I spoke with the ship’s director and we decided a Beginners class and a ‘French Conversation for Improvers’ class would be more appropriate, as it allows me to really hone in the students’ individual interests and needs.
Well, I hope this little insight into teaching French has been interesting and perhaps even inspired you to take up a new language! If you are looking for French tuition, have any translation needs or even just want to ask me a question, please contact me via my website.