A beautiful language

 

A few weeks ago, I read a post all about the French language and I thought I would share my experiences with the language. I’ve been an English teacher for over 20 years, so I know exactly how students work. I know the kind of problems they face. I can predict when they’re going to have a problem and how to explain it them very clearly. The English language makes perfect sense to me and even when there are times that it seems like it doesn’t make sense, I can shed some light on it and make it easier to understand. At least, I think I can and I hope that my students think I can. I’ve been doing it a long time, so I imagine that I’m pretty good at it.

 

It might surprise you to learn, that I’m actually monolingual and in fact, most of the English teachers I know are also monolingual. This might seem strange and it is certainly something I would never freely admit to a student – “Hello, I only speak one language, I have no idea what you are going through”. This wouldn’t be a good or helpful introduction and definitely not the right way to make a good impression. But sadly its true. Most of my English teacher friends have been living in the Middle East for years and years and can’t even put a single sentence together.

 

It is not entirely our fault, however. I don’t want you to think, that we are making excuses, but if you work and make all your money and do all your socializing in English, it makes it remarkably difficult to acquire a new one. But recently, I have tried. It is by no means my first attempt. I studied German in school and after 6 years, I could just about manage to ask for the bathroom. I tried learning French, with a very attractive teacher. But the moment I figured out he spoke English, we stopped the classes and started dating…… I moved to Spain for 2 years. I took weekly free lessons which we included in my company for all the international employees. I tried a lot at first, but I saw I wasn’t making progress, I lost motivation. That’s why, I think motivation is so important. Even if, my students make lots of mistakes, I always make them feel like they are progressing so they stay motivated.

 

No, I’ve been in Paris for 4 months and it looks like I’m going to be hear for a while, so I figure I better try and make an effort. It’s kind of similar to English. I mean, it’s not Russian or Chinese, so that’s a big plus. I’ve also attempted it before, so I thought, maybe some of that will come flooding back to me ( even though that wasn’t very much to begin with). I signed up for a school (really similar set-up to the one I work in) and begin weekly morning classes.

 

As a teacher, I never had anything to do with the money that students paid. I knew it was a lot but that was all dealt with in the office, not the classroom. Now that I signed up for lesson and saw that the teacher was quite young and not very experienced, I wasn’t sure if it was worth my money. It was truly a remarkable experience to be on the other side of the classroom. She was a Parisian teacher so that was a plus. The major downside was that everyone in the room was a native English speaker. I’ve spent years telling people, don’t go to London to lean English. It’s too international, you will just meet people from your own country or people that speak your language and you won’t learn as quickly as you would, if you went to a smaller English town. But here I was.

 

I was old enough to be everyone’s mother, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I couldn’t believe all the Americans that had come specifically to Paris, in large groups to learn French. “It’s just not going to happen, people”- I wanted to scream from the top of my voice. But I didn’t I just took out my pen and followed the lesson. It was very grammar orientated which is quite different from my classes but I suppose it is important to know the grammar. I’ve just always found it difficult to make it interesting when I teach it.

 

I was impressed that I could follow virtually everything the teacher was saying. Of course, I know she was speaking a lot slower than normal. I do that too when I have a class of beginner students. But like every other attempts, about two weeks ago, I gave up.

 

The classes are not like my classes. And that might sounds arrogant to say, but I know what I don’t like and being almost double the age of everyone else, I felt uncomfortable. Another failed attempt, I thought to myself. All that money, wasted on a fancy school in the middle of the Latin Quarter. I had signed up for one month and I gave it three weeks. And this was the same day that my metro card mysterious stopped working and I had to ask the man why this had happened and if I could have another one. He tried to tell me that my metro card and finished and that I needed to buy a new one. But I knew that wasn’t the case. What could have been a simply exchange of two or three sentences turned into a bit of an argument and a delay on my why home. My confidence was knocked even further.

 

They say, that the French don’t like to speak English but that’s not true . The French and Parisians are lovely people and in my opinion when it comes to language, they have a reputation that I simply don’t think they deserve. No one would ever refuse to speak a language. They can either speak it or they can’t, and it is true that the level of English might shock you a bit. Ok, it’s not as bad as people make out – Paris is an international city and (well known fact) it is the number 1 tourist destination in the world. So, if you’re planning on staying in a hotel and seeing the sights for a couple of days, then everything is fine. From the waiter, to the hotel staff, to the tour guide – everyone will speak English and understand you. But if you stay a little bit longer or if you’re like me and you actually plan to live here, then yes, you need to learn French. The level of English is not as good as say Berlin, Stockholm or Amsterdam. French is a world language and it’s international status is not challenged or under threat based on it’s ability to speak English.

 

SO the moral of the story is that you better start learning. A large part of Parisian daily life will be unavailable to you, if you don’t speak this language. And of course, like every other city on the planet, if you some words in the local language and don’t immediately just launch into English, they will appreciate it.

 

But I digress somewhat on what I wanted to talk about ( a problem that happens in a lot of my classes as well). There is a whole world of people in Paris who want to learn English and if you really want to speak French but you hate classrooms or you’re not willing to pay rocket money for classes then try and find a language exchange. I ‘m not great with online stuff and I just started blogging and writing blog posts in the last couple of years, so if you’re like me, you might not know that such platforms and sites exist. My friend pointed it out to me, when I was just about to lose hope and walk around with a pocket translator.

 

Couchsurfing.com is the best one in Paris in my opinion. I thought this was simply just a free version of Airbnb and I have heard of it before but I never logged on to it, because frankly it was really my thing. I didn’t realize it is also home to thousands of events across the globe. Every day in Paris there are so many different things happening and virtually all of them are free. The energy of couchsurfing is very & “meet and greet” and chilled out, so the people are all really friendly. Ok, I’ve only been to three meetings but I was sold within the first 20 minutes of my first meeting. I’ve only been to the language events but there are other events.

 

Once people found out, I was an English teacher, all the local people wanted to talk to me to improve their English and once they saw that I was helping them a lot, they switched and started teaching my the basics. I honestly can’t praise it enough. And how much does it cost? Nothing, Rein, Nada. And you can drink a nice class of wine and because its in a bar, it’s more relaxed.

 

Another great site is MeetUp. It’s much more dynamic and has all kinds of different events. I tried a language exchange on that site and it was great fun. Based on my own personal experience, I preferred couchsurfing because people also wanted to help me and well as speak English but in the MeetUp crowd, I felt myself talking a lot of English and eventually saying (more than once) “ hey can we try a bit of French for 5 or 10 minutes.. you’re basically getting a free English class here”. Of course, it was all friendly and lovely and I’m definitely going to give it another shot. It’s just my opinion but so far Couchsurfing is winning. So the real point of this post ( and I totally shouldn’t be saying this because I’m an English teacher ) is, forget the expensive classes and do a language exchange. You have nothing to lost because it’s completely free and if you click with someone you might save a lot of money and their local so you get a free tour guide included.

 

Go and search and learn.

Cycle Free and Explore

velib

 

Almost every major city across Europe now has one, but like almost everything else, the movement, apparently started in Paris. Home to so many cultural institutions, artistic innovation and important historic events, Paris has given the world so much. But this post isn’t about what you would expect. I confess, I’m not much of an art lover. Well, I think it’s great but its not exactly why thing. I’m much more of an outdoors person and I was happy to discover the Paris was the first city to spearhead the free bicycle movement.

 

Home to the finish line of the most famous bike race in the world, the city also has a dedicated bike festival every June. According to my sources (Wikipedia and my Parisian friends), Paris was the first city to introduce public bicycles scattered across the city for everyone to use as a mode of transport. And no one could have predicted how popular it would have become.

 

How exactly does it work?

 

Ok, so there are literally hundreds of bike stations across the city. As you would expect, most of them are in the city centre. They are available for 24 hours or even for 7 days, if you plan to stay in the city for longer. If you want even longer you can sign up for a subscription. You can purchase the service online or at any of the bike stations. Instructions are available in English and if you get really stuck or you have a problem with your bike or membership there is even a dedicated English speaking customer service team and an English language website.

 

Oh, how silly of me, to forget. In case it wasn’t obvious the name of this blog post, Velo Libre, is the name of the service, just in case you want to Google it. The first 30 minutes of every journey are completely free, libre (free in French). So if you are planning a short vacation to Paris, this is a great idea. You get all the necessary exercise you need, so there no need to feel guilty about eating all that cheese or drinking all the wine. But remember, don’t drink and cycle, you could hurt not only yourself but others around you.

 

While other cities have followed suit and copied this system, the Parisian version still remains the best one, in my opinion. Barcelona has a great service but its not for tourists, you need to have a tax number to avail of the service. London has a similar service but honestly, despite the cities best efforts, the city centre is not bicycle friendly. I live there and cycling around the centre is great, but Zone 1, just isn’t as a well designed for bikes as Paris. Amsterdam, the great bike city of Europe, its amazing for bikes but everyone already owns one, so there is no really need for a service with this many bicycles. Thank Velo Libre, for helped me burn the calories and seeing the city in a new way.

Eat, Pray, Blog

coffee

 

am one of those lucky people who gets to travel as part of their job. At least twice a month, a meeting, conference, interview, or some problematic situation takes my to some of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities. I have a favorite and it’s Paris. It doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, there is always something really cool happening there. It helps if you know your way around the city because like everywhere else in the world, if there are a lot of tourists there are a lot of traps. I know, technically speaking I’m not a tourist, I’m there working but still, I don’t know my way around and I’m only there a short time for each visit. Thats why I use the internet to help me.

Blogging and user generated content has really changed my traveling experiences. Now, with just a couple of clicks, I can find good exhibitions that I’m actually interested in by reading the reviews of likeminded people and most importantly where to eat. That’s the reason for my post today. Reading restaurant reviews has helped me to make informed decisions about where to spend my hard earned cash. I sometimes don’t trust people in hotels, especially in big chains because I always suspect they have some agreement with a local restaurant and they simply just ship the guests in, by the bus load. I prefer to rent an apartment because I like to be by myself. It has nothing to do with wanting the use the kitchen. I hate cooking and if I can avoid even making something as simple as a sandwich, I will. I eat out all the time, that’s why reviews are so important for me, because if I’m not a local, I don’t know where to go. And I would never trust a guide book (does anyone trust them anymore). But here’s one thing I noticed and you should notice too, stay away from the big tourist information sites – you know the ones I mean. The sites that have user reviews for hotels, cities, monuments, sites, and restaurants. I think, it fact, I’m pretty sure that I lot of these are fake and are actually the company writing this about themselves. There’s no way of checking, but a lot of the reviews just don’t sounds like real people. If they sing the praises of the restaurant too much, it probably is not a real review. Remember, just because its online doesn’t mean its real.

 

So what do I use instead? Timeout is great – but make sure you read the reviews by users. Other Parisian based sities with good user reviews include – Paris by mouth and Parisianist. I use them a lot for all things food related. Enjoy, read the reviews and eat, eat ,eat.