Vacationless Vacation

I’ve got an hour to kill in the library, and it’s long past time that I update this blog.  So much has happened in the past three weeks, that I’m not really sure where to start.

I finally got that stable, permanent-contract job in Amiens, known in France as a CDI.  And I love it.  I’m teaching English to adults, following a specific method with a great staff and two fellow English-speakers, a Brittish girl my age and an Irish guy whose full-time passion is music.  The videos that make up the backbone of the learning method are pretty funny, and I’m learning loads about my own language in teaching it.  I have stable hours at a center not far from my apartment, stable (though very low) monthly pay and other job benefits.  Plenty of resources are available for me to use, and I’m gaining tons of experience.  There are nevertheless a few catches : I can no longer go to Italy this summer, as it’s a year-round job with few days of vacation until they’ve been accumulated throughout the year.  And, as a foreign student on a student visa, I am only able to work up to 20 hours a week.  I found a job I really like but am still not guaranteed the security to stay here in France, as in order to change my “visa status” from student to legal full-time worker, I pretty much need a Masters.  And my current Masters is becoming less and less interesting as time goes by…

The past two weeks were officially the semester “spring break,” two weeks without classes in which we were expected to advance on research, papers, or preparations for various concours, competitive contests or exams that pit you against the other candidates for a job.  Instead of focusing on my second semester studies or enjoying myself at the beach, I jumped head first into my new job, with insane 40+ hours the first week in doing both the new job and my old jobs (with various students around the city), and slightly more reasonable hours the second week.  I am starting to find my groove with the method and with how I explain things to students, while occasionally relying on my knowledge of French to explain grammatical points a bit quicker.  What I love about the method we use is that it’s based on communication, on hearing a language without understanding everything and about speaking as much as possible.  Which is pretty much the opposite of how English is taught in the French school system, which focuses on reading and writing instead of confident speaking abilities and correcting pronunciation mistakes.  Instead of being chastised for my “non-British” English and accent, I am valued as a member of the team who offers an alternative way of speaking, in an attempt to value diversity and a variant accent from the academic norm. Not that I don’t speak and write perfect English.  I got a 990 on the TOIEC (variant of the TEFOL exam to evaluate your English level) and always excelled at grammar and written expression.  But the whole point of the game is not to feel humiliated but to get your point across, then communicate – little by little – more confidently, more fluidly, more nuanced, finally assimilating cultural meanings and idiomatic expressions.  It’s what I’ve been trying to do for the past eight years in French, driven by an insane urge to perfect my second language, whether or not I can even advance past my current level (not for lack of trying, believe me).

In short, much of what I’ve learned this year has little prepared me for my current job: not the linguistic analysis of grammar, albeit fascinating in and of itself, especially not the complex literary translations into French in which my language level regresses and I feel like an incompetent idiot, and definitely not the specific points of methodology that are strictly applied to the writing of papers and summaries.  I think I’m a confident and competent teacher because I empathize with my students in learning their own language (French) as a foreign language, because I have spent hour after hour fine-tuning my explanations on specific grammar points and “language traps” such as the infamous phrasal verbs or faux amis, and partly because I stay calm and make it fun.  I’ve come to realize that part of why I dislike the French education system is because it’s an all or nothing deal – one grade you must pass or face redoing a whole year (in some circumstances), instead of a series of exercises that builds up your level, your confidence, your self-esteem.  It’s often about “being wrong,” being corrected as an example for the class instead of praised for your hard work, judged on the form and not the content.  It’s not about the learning process, the learning for the sake of learning that I have always loved about my teachers and my classes in school up till now, but that all-important diplôme that without which you are worth nothing.  You are put in a box : that slip of paper that tells that you are qualified to be a teacher, not because of your personality or your way with kids, but because you can translate from one language to the next without the aid of the dictionary.  And if you want to change careers… tough luck, you’ve got to start from scratch, because your diploma is for the wrong discipline.

Categories: Education, France, Working in France | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Week to End All Weeks

Here I am on Monday morning, thinking about my killer of a week, on my blog when I really should be studying, writing my thesis or preparing for an interview.  That’s right, this week, not only do I have five hours’ worth of exams, eight hours’ worth of Masters classes, and eight hours’ worth of teaching English, I also have a job interview and a presentation of my Masters thesis – that’s to say, it’s current state and how I am going about things in my research and revision.

This week is the crucible: it will indicate to me whether or not I might have employment for next year, whether or not I’ll pass the second semester (the first time around at least, as make-up exams are also scheduled for June), and whether or not I’m very far behind on my Masters thesis (likely answer, yes).  Despite a profound lack of motivation, I have only to get through this week to have the better part of my first year studies under my belt.  As with every long and arduous trek, we shall be rewarded with a wonderful two-week Spring break (not to be confused with our one-week February break, our two-week Christmas break, our two-week October break, or the four public holidays in May).  I’ll finally have time to get back into running, to produce two eight-page papers, one in English and one in French, and to churn out the rest of my fifty-page thesis before the end of June.

With the horizon in sight, it’s so hard to focus, focus, focus.  Yesterday we had a gorgeous blue sky and a sun that could almost melt butter.  Today it is back to those cold doldrums of April that are neither winter nor spring, but an ugly gray in-between.  I might as well get this ordeal over with…


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Teaching English


An avalanche can be triggered by the slightest of movements, a small rock rolling down the side of a mountain.  As it falls, it gains momentum and slowly a whole face of the mountain follows in its wake, cascading down in a deafening, blinding explosion of snow.  A powerful, lethal domino effect…

To put it plainly, that’s my metaphor for how I went from teaching one hour of English a week to, in the space of two weeks, seven to ten hours a week with eleven different students.

It started small.  An online advertisement sent by a friend.  Another online advertisement that led to a phone call, which led to an interview, which led to another interview.  And now I have more requests for English classes than I can fit into my weekly schedule.  This is why I tell all those would-be-haters, Ye of little faith, back home that while having a liberal arts degree certainly doesn’t stack the odds in your favor, people can and do find work with a B.A. in French.  That and a combination of people you know, being in the right place at the right time, and various other jobs/internship/qualifications.  The most important thing is to have that first job, that first experience, and you are a thousand times more likely to be hired.

All that being said, it’s hard to try to teach ESL classes in Europe, especially in France.  You go to the language centers, and they want CELTA/TEFL certifications.  You go to the after-school tutoring companies, and they want experience.  You go to the middle schools and high schools, and they want you to first pass a national exam and pointless Masters.  You try to freelance it, and you know nobody, and there are a thousand other advertisements online.  Plus the British can always trump you when it comes to visa requirements and hiring priorities.  You go to Paris, and your rent costs too much.  You go to a smaller city, and there’s not the same amount of work as in Paris.  You realize that you might speak your own language but you have no idea why you say what you say.  You realize that everyone outside of an English-speaking country learned jargon that you have never ever heard of (“phrasal verbs” or “modal constructions” ringing any bells?).  And that no matter how hard you try, some people can just not successfully pronounce the letter “H.”

But why should you try? Because, for one, you appreciate that while not everyone speaks English, they make a valiant effort to speak a language other than their own native tongue.  And that you are not more privileged than a non-native speaker English teacher, just because you happen to speak one of the variants of English without thinking.  Do you know how to explain to someone when to use can rather than could or shall rather than should?  Teaching English abroad forces you to question yourself, your language, your perception of the world.  It makes you appreciate being able to communicate in someone else’s native language, to even be able to teach someone in French, let alone a subject as complex and erratic as the English language.  Because, let’s face it, teaching English does not necessarily imply teaching in English, even for purists who insist on full-scale immersion and improving oral comprehension.  If someone is going to pay you fifteen bucks an hour once a week, you can bet that they don’t want to pass those sixty minutes understanding twenty percent of what you are saying.  All they need to do for that is to turn on an American TV show.

But oh what fun and what headaches and difficulties and epiphanies and joy and frustration it is to teach English!  Teaching in itself is tiring and time-consuming, but teaching a foreign language – when only half of your students are actually interested and the rest are either forced to learn it by their parents or required to to pass an exam – is the real gauntlet of the teaching world.  And teaching English in a country where you are barely there legally, and there are one hundred other people who would like to be in your shoes, and the hours are bad, and the pay is subpar… Teaching English in France is for the brave of heart.

I’ve done the Hokey Pokey, I’ve “I spied”, I’ve gotten locked up in London Bridge, I’ve taught the basics of Bingo, I’ve reiterated the rules for pronouncing “-ed” verb endings, I’ve sung “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” I’ve translated ad lib a dozen complex business texts, I’ve “How do you do-ed” and “Nice to meet you-ed” and I’ve traveled all over the city, running to and fro from bus stations and language centers, cafés and campuses.  I’ve worked with four-year-olds, ten-year-olds, fourteen-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds, twenty-year-olds, twenty-five-year-olds.  And somehow, I have still retained my sanity.

It’s language-learning in reverse.  It’s unlearning, relearning, faking it, ad libbing.  It’s scratching your head at all the various pecularities between British English and American English.  It’s knowing the superlative, the subjunctive, the passive voice, the present perfect, subject-verb inversion, relative pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and so much more.  It’s a whole lot of n’importe quoi.

And sometimes I say to myself, maybe I should move to Thailand or Korea.  I’ve heard there’s better pay.

Categories: Education, Expats, Working in France | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments


8050434766_b7d46aaec9_zHello there, my fellow Expats and bloggers, friends and strangers alike, I haven’t written in two weeks because, well, like any writer knows, sometimes you just need a break.  For me, this welcome respite came in the form of les vacances de février, one of the many numerous French school holidays scattered throughout the year.

Hiatus n. the pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process.

That’s exactly what I did.  From February 22 to March 1 I spent my days lounging around my apartment, occasionally venturing outside to buy bread and cheese and to participate in a lovely atelier pommes, that’s to say a cooking workshop revolving around apples with my locavore group “Les Tombés de la Charette” (our website is now operational,, if you want to see what we’re up to).  I watched more tv than I probably had previously during my entire lifetime (NCIS, “The Voice,” etc.) and I worked not one iota on my school work.  Not to say that I wasn’t studious.  I get antsy if I don’t have some “project” to work on, one I usually abandon within a few weeks, but I have been faithfully studying Italian on Duolingo and Memrise almost every day for the past two weeks.  Io mangio la fragola.  Grazie.

The weeklong holiday (those high school age and younger had two weeks off school, most of whom jetted off to the Alps for a colonies de vacances holiday camp to go skiing) was dark and overcast, the doldrums of the winter months in full swing here in Northern France.  And to make matters worse, very few students were around, most having gone home to their families, traveled to warmer milieu or worked as camp counselors.  I gave five hours of English lessons myself, but I mostly wallowed in my pajamas and woke up around noon every day.  I have tried several more adventurous recipes recently: tortilla española, bricks à la tunisienne, spicy chili, tarte aux poireaux avec une pâte brisée faite maison, crumble aux pommes, velouté à la courge muscadée

My most productive part of the break was the massive amounts of emails that I sent off to friends and the numerous “Skype dates” I initiated during this time.  I even talked with an American in Oregon, at 10 pm her time and 7 am my own! (I promptly went back to sleep afterwards).  It’s been such a pleasure to read all the responses to my emails (friends, you know who you are, and I am so lucky to have you in my life!)  And thank goodness for Skype and for the weekly “conference calls” my family does, which has allowed me to feel very close while being very far away.  I think I can say that I am successfully keeping up with my New Year’s pledge to email once a month and to maintain a good steady communication with my loved ones.

Since Monday, I’ve been back at school, with renewed vigor and focus (*cough cough*).  I’ve slowly stopped going to all those “extra classes” (you see my problem with resolutions and “projects”? I can never successfully audit anything for a full term) and concentrated on my job search and the classes I’m actually getting graded on.  I finally received my bulletin scolaire, that’s to say, my report card for the first semester.  To my delight, I ended up with a 15/20 moyenne (average).  Despite what you might think, approximately half of my classes were taught and evaluated in French, and I am proud to say that I did very well in them.  For my classes uniquely in French, I received 14, 15, 16, 16 and 17! My English to French translation class was my only shortcoming, but averaged with my much stronger French to English grade, I barely scraped past the passing grade of a 10!  What this all translates into is that I won’t have to “retake” any of my first semester exams in the summer, I’ve “validated” everything (grades in France are very different from what you can expect in the US, if you want more details, I invite you to browse through my previous posts commenting on the first semester).

And another “New Year’s resolution” to cross off my list: I got hired at a(nother) local tutoring company as an English teacher, the #1 centre de soutien scolaire in France if I do say so myself.  Between my various “employers” I should be able to generate much more income than what I was previously, enough to help me literally scrape by in these upcoming months.  With a part-time job for now, an exciting job opportunity in Italy for the summer, and a potential job for next year, all that awaits me is to discover what direction my career(s) will take me in.  Sometime in April I’ll find out whether or not I’ll be a language assistant next school year, and the results to the June CAPES (allowing me to be a stagiaire, or student teacher) will be posted in July.

All that’s left of my 2013 goals is to get back into running! I’ve run once this week and look forward to a slightly longer run tomorrow.  The sun is starting to shine more reliably, although it’s expected to plunge back into the 30’s and 40’s over the next few days.  Vivement le printemps…

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Education, Expats, France, Working in France | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Want to become a French Doctoral student?

Recently a friend of a friend contacted me about how to apply for a doctorate in France, and I asked my professors at my university for a bit of an explanation.  For those who are interested in applying for an undergraduate or master’s degree in France coming from a non-European company, please read my article How to Move to France to see how to go about applying via the CampusFrance website.  For those interested in pursuing his or her PhD in France, read on.

Apparently, applying for a Doctorate is slightly more complicated in that you need to find a “directeur de recherche” right off the bat in order to even get accepted into a program.  One of my professors emailed me back in French a few tidbits of advice, especially concerning whether or not you can do a doctoral thesis “in English” or not.  Here’s a copy of the email:

“Bonsoir Colleen,

Pour vous répondre rapidement: si votre amie veut s’inscrire en doctorat/3e cycle dans une université française, elle a deux possibilités. Elle peut s’inscrire en anglais et rédiger une thèse de civilisation britannique ou américaine en lui donnant une orientation “Histoire des idées” ou “Histoire de l’art”. Il se peut dans ce cas qu’elle ait à suivre un/des séminaire/s en anglais. Chaque faculté a son Ecole Doctorale, et chaque Ecole Doctorale a son programme (ici, par exemple, les séminaires sont interdisciplinaires, comme il y a peu de doctorants, et se font en français). Mais elle ne pourra pas conserver son sujet [nota bone “mon amie” veut faire un doctorat en histoire de l’art].

Ou elle peut s’inscrire en Histoire de l’art et consacrer sa thèse à l’avant-garde parisienne, mais il est assez probable qu’elle aura à suivre des séminaires en français.

Dans un cas comme dans l’autre, elle devra rédiger l’intégralité de sa thèse (environ 500 pages) en français, sauf si elle opte pour une co-direction (un directeur en France, l’autre dans une université anglophone). Dans ce cas, il est possible de rédiger la thèse en anglais, mais si celle-ci est inscrite en France, la soutenance se passera en français.

Dites-lui de chercher “Ecole Doctorale” sur les sites des universités: elle s’y repérera sans doute plus facilement. Chaque faculté a une Ecole Doctorale qui gère l’ensemble des doctorants/3e cycles selon les champs de spécialité (Lettres et Langues, Sciences Humaines, Sciences, Droit, etc.)



If you have any more questions regarding studying in France, as an undergraduate or graduate, don’t hesitate to ask.  I’ve learned a lot in the past five months and am potentially considering pursuing a doctorate here down the line.
Categories: Education | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Back to the Grind

Well, I’ll have to say, having five months of my Masters under my belt made this “first day” back to class so much easier than the original first day (see La rentrée for more information).  I have gotten a handful of my grades back, all (with one exception) really good, which has boosted my confidence.  I’ve figured out how my Masters works, how the complementary Masters that I’m going to switch into next year works, the grading system for both Masters and how I’ll be evaluated.  I’ve gotten to know the professors, figured out what they expect of me in terms of translation, in both written French and English, and I’ve even figured out what I need to do to become a high school professor of English in France (see my last post, Round Two, if you’re curious to know more about teaching in private schools in France).

That being said, my schedule for the semester looks absolutely ridiculous.  Part of this is because, in addition to the normal workload of a Master de recherche (4 seminars, 2 translation classes, 1 linguistics class, and “out of class” time to work on my thesis), I am also taking as an “auditrice libre” all the Master d’enseignement classes, with the exception of oral comprehension and expression, which would be absolutely pointless for me to take anyways.  That brings my total to nine classes, and I’m contemplating spending all day at the l’IUFM, where they instruct you on basic pedagogy and set up teaching practicums, on Thursdays, along with the rest of the Master d’enseignement, even though I am in no way required to.  All this because of the CAPES écrits which is taking place in June, six months (more or less) ahead of schedule.  The written CAPES for English will be in the form of a written commentary on a literary or significant historical text accompanied by one to five “annexes” that serve as “guides” in your analysis, à la française, and two texts to translate, one into English and another into French, the latter serving as a starting point for a linguistic analysis on English grammatical terms.  And since I am so new to the whole literary translation thing, especially from English to French, I decided to “audit” a class or two of translation in order to improve.  Hey, you can only get better at translation by doing more translation!

Sample schedule:

  • Mondays: 10 am-12 pm, [audit] Methodology class for the CAPES literary commentary; LUNCH; 1 pm-3 pm, Seminar on traductology taught by my Thesis adviser; 3 pm-4 pm, [audit] Translation class emphasizing English grammar; 4 pm-5 pm, [audit] Translation class on literary translation from English to French
  • Tuesdays: 9 am-11 am, Linguistic analysis class; 11 am-12 pm, Translation class on literary translation from English to French; LUNCH; 2 pm-3 pm, Translation class on literary translation from French to English; 3 pm-5 pm, Seminar on linguistic theory (all the big names, de Saussure, Chomsky, etc.)
  • Wednesdays: 10:30 am-12:30 pm, Methodology class for the CAPES commentary of a historically significant text; LUNCH; 3 pm-5 pm, Seminar on Irish literature
  • Thursdays: 9:30 am-4:30 pm, Pedagogical training at l’IUFM
  • Fridays: 2 pm-4 pm, Seminar [undecided, but probably in French medieval literature on Marian poetry in France]

Nevertheless, I will do my best to succeed this semester, as well as in my preparations for the CAPES, knowing full well that the more practice in translation, literary analysis, linguistics that I do, the better off I’ll be.  The worst that can happen is A) I’ll get burnt out and start dropping my classes or B) have to take the make-up exams in June for a class or two and/or retake the CAPES next year if I don’t pass it.  Which means redo parts of my first-year Masters, but with a signficantly lighter workload.  And maybe a part-time job (fingers crossed).

Another reason why today went so well is that I finally know everyone in my Masters, and some even rather well.  It takes time to get to know people, and there’s nothing better than taking the same exams and suffering under the same obnoxious workload to break the ice.  And then, Facebook did the rest.  I am blessed to have had this semester: international friends, friends in my Masters, and friends within my locavore group, a diverse assemblage of wonderful and very different people.  Who would have believed that I had hardly a single French friend (with notable exceptions) the last time I lived in Amiens? There is nothing like setting up a permanent residence somewhere and pursuing a legitimate degree, instead of feeling like a “vacationer” or a “foreign observer” passing through.

So here I am in January 2013, confident, happy, and motivated for the rest of the year and for the grueling work ahead of me, albeit altogether broke!

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Round Two

It snowed a few days ago here in Amiens (although it melted the following day), and since yesterday it has been absolutely freezing.  I’m from the Midwest United States, so I am not exaggerating when I say that (my three years in Omaha bring to mind many not-so-fond memories of the snow and the cold).  Last night, it dropped to 16 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 C), and even in the middle of the day, it is now only 27 degrees (-3 C).  I have ventured out as little as possible in the past week since I’ve written my last post.


Now I can finally say, after five months, twelve weeks of classes, and many an exam, exposé or written dossier (or all three!), I have finally finished my first semester!  It’s time to break out the sparkling grape juice and do a celebratory dance… until classes begin again next Monday.  I had my last two exams last Monday and filled eight sides of paper all in French about various theoretical and linguistic topics relating to H.P. Grice’s maximes of communication and the argumentative strategies of Albert Camus.  Hopefully I won’t have to retake those exams, but I won’t know those grades for a while.  I also finally finished my linguistics dossier on English words (anglicismes) used in French food and cooking vocabulary: think cookies, donuts, ketchup, and other such things (whereas they, conversely, have contributed about 60% of all our culinary words, such as bourguignon, à la minute, au gratin, etc.).  Now all I need to do is wait and see if I passed my first semester or whether or not I will need to prepare make-up exams in June for the classes for which I do not have the passing 10 average.

On a professional note, I at last know what is required of me in order to teach in a French middle school or high school!  This Wednesday I traveled to the neighboring town of Beauvais to attend an info session on l’enseignement catholique in France.  As a non-ressortisant(e) de l’Espace européenne, that’s to say, neither a French nor a European citizen, I am effectively barred from teaching in public schools because that requires the fonctionnaire status – as a government civil servant.  Which means, although I only want to teach my native tongue to 12-18 year olds, I would still be considered a “government employee”, and as a non-European, that is not a possibility.  I can always re-apply to be a public school teacher in four and a half years, upon receiving French citizenship, but in order to remain in France during this time, I need a job.  One of those lovely Catch-22’s that you so often encounter in France (See Jennifer Lee’s delightful essay on French Catch-22’s or on Teaching English in France).  Luckily, for those willing to jump through a bunch of hoops, there is a solution: private schools.

However, don’t expect to just show up in France and find a French high school willing to hire you – not if it’s “sous contrat de l’État”, that’s to say, funded and reglemented by the government, which the majority of the legitimate and mainstream schools in France, private or public, are.  No, in order to get hired by a private school, you must have completed both years of your Masters (I’m in the process), pass both the épreuves d’admissibilité du CAPES (the June written teaching exam, I just signed up for it) and the épreuves d’admission du CAPES (the oral exams scheduled for 2014), follow classes of specific pedagogy and work as a student teacher for a minumum of 12 weeks, and get the approval of the regional Diocese in order to both student teach and be hired full-time.  Not to mention the permission of the regional office for the region’s schools (le Rectorat) to teach in France even in private schools.  And eventually, pass through the requirements for applying for a work permit (titre de travail) at your local préfecture.  As 70% of all private schools in France “sous contrat” are Catholic schools, I am going to follow the procedures and begin my long journey between now and becoming a teacher within the regional school district of Catholic schools.  After all, the students learn exactly the same things in the classroom as they do in public schools.  If all goes according to plan, I’ll be a student teacher come September!

I’ve had a last few rounds of delicious meals with my German, Tunisian and French friends before my two close friends leave tomorrow for Germany, before embarking on other adventures.  Tonight is their fête de départ at the same African café-bar where I myself had my going-away party in 2011!

By the way, it’s been exactly two years since I first arrived in Amiens… How many things have happened since!

Mloukhiya, a traditional Tunisian dish that takes 7 hours to prepare

Mloukhiya, a traditional Tunisian dish that takes 7 hours to prepare

Fondue soirée

Fondue soirée

Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Education, Food, France | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Back in Business

Source for photo The Talk of Toronto Blog

Source for photo The Talk of Toronto Blog

I promised I’d share both triumphs and failures, and I’m happy to say that I’ve had my fair share of Good News in the past few days. My last class for the first semester ended on December 20, which means I don’t have class until January 21. In the meantime, I had a string of exams the second week of December as well as a variety of assignments to turn in via e-mail. During my holidays, I promised myself that I would take full advantage of my time to spend with my friends and family instead of worrying about schoolwork, so it is only now that I am back in Amiens that I have been crossing things off my to-do list (I’m a big fan of to-do lists).

To-Do List

  • Write a one to two-page report in French on my journée mastériale talking about World War I
  • Write a seven-page literary analysis in English on The Awakening in which I analyze “the sea”
  • Write a five-page comparative analysis in English on two extracts of Children’s literature
  • Submit my application to the Teaching Assistant Program in France for 2013-2014
  • Write a ten-page sociolinguistic analysis in French of the anglicismes in food, gastronomy, and cooking
  • Study for my two exams in French on two theoretical approaches to research
  • Read the intensely boring Reflections on the Revolution in France and the delightful Everything in the Country Must before classes begin
  • Register for the June 2013 CAPES/CAFEP exam for English

So you see, I’m making progress! Nothing like being able to wake up at 11 am and sit around in your pajamas all day, writing blog posts and plodding through the rough waters of papers and exams. It certainly is a change. Speaking of change, AMETIS (the Amiens bus system) changed around their bus lines, much to my advantage (I now have an express line that takes me directly from my bus stop to the Campus in less than ten minutes), and the bus drivers didn’t even go on strike for it! (See my post La grève des bus to learn more about my history with bus strikes).

Since arriving back in Amiens, I’ve been hit with good news like a chain of explosive dynamite. It started on Monday, when I got an email from my professor who teaches that course on the linguistic analysis of translation (see my post A+ Tuesday for more on this professor). In a somewhat unsettling way of seeing my first grade back for one of my December exams – apparently in Amiens, they post all the grades collectively, so you can see what everyone else in the class got, regardless of how bad or good the grade might be – I opened up the attached file only to discover that I had gotten a 16/20! The second highest grade in the class on an exam entirely in French! I was astonished and delighted, considering that the only other grade I had received up to that point was a 4/20 on a translation exam (which will be averaged with four other translation grades, luckily for me). Even assuming I did as terribly on all my other translation grades (which is unlikely for my French to English translations at least), following the French system of compensation des notes, I could still take the 4 and the 16 and average them to make a 10, the passing note for the semester. To my surprise, yesterday, the same professor sent us the grades for our Wednesday class, the linguistic aspects of translation (not to be confused with aforementioned linguistic analysis of a specific translation, which makes up 1/3 of the CAPES written exams). Boom goes the dynamite, and I had 14/20! Not as good as a 16, but still, a very decent grade that will further help me achieve my required semester average. We are going to go over these exams in a few weeks, but I am fairly certain that most of my points were lost for not writing enough and incorrectly translating, “the knife was no longer coming at her. She was moving it up and down.” (Profound, I know). I’m still waiting on three more grades from November/December and five more grades in January, two of which I’ve already turned in the dossier for and now only have to wait for the result.

To boost my confidence on a whole different level, I’ve also had some reassurance that yes, I am making progress both socially and professionally here in Amiens, even if just a little bit. Firstly, I have been teaching something of a conversation class/ad lib basics of English to four French girls aged 7-10, albeit for one hour a week only. It’s a start (I keep needing to tell myself that it will get me somewhere). The best thing about teaching these girls, in addition to their enthusiasm, the flexibility I have to experiment (not typical of teaching English in French schools), and the gales of laughter that tend to accompany my Friday afternoons, is that I have a genuine contract which will last until July. So it’s very official, and the parents can’t just cancel on me without owing me 1/3 of the remaining pay. All this is relevant because for the first month of the contract, we began a “trial period” where, if they weren’t happy with me, they could let me go without reneging on the contract. Three weeks after my first lesson, the father who had initially interviewed and hired me calls me and informs me that he is rather surprised that I’m not speaking as much English as I am French with the girls. Granted, they have had a limited exposure to English and I’ve found that to get them to listen or understand me, I must often express myself in French. I heartily agreed with the father and began giving all my instructions in English before supplementing them with French, but I was slightly shaken up by his out of the blue call. Un peu de retour, he told me. As it is my first independent Teaching English as a Foreign Language job, I had some doubts about my abilities, although I was at least confident that the girls were having a very good time. Whether they are actually learning anything is another issue entirely.

Bref, now six weeks into teaching and comfortably past the one-month “trial period” I emailed the same father to ask for a bit more retour (feedback) with a long list of questions to help me evaluate my performance. Lo and behold, the other two sets of parents were very happy with my classes, and the parents of the two sisters as well, although they were concerned with the sisterly squabbling during the class. My youngest student was also apparently retaining the vocabulary I had taught her and, much to the amusement of her parents, was starting to use an American accent when repeating words in English. The father finished his e-mail with a highly flattering, I encourage you to keep teaching in the same manner. I felt like a million bucks at those words!

My final défi was last night, at our first locavore réunion since Christmas break. My partner-in-crime, N, called me a few hours before the meeting to tell me that she needed me to run, or animer, it. Honestly, I’ve never been in a student association, club, or society before where I’ve had to play a leading role (if you don’t count my years in the French club in high school), so this has been a huge learning experience for me, even being part of the group. The French is fast-paced, colloquial, accented strangely, and I’ve had to absorb a lot of strange vocabulary such as animer, échéance, ordre du jour, compte-rendu, scribe, commision, com’, partenariat, etc. often in the form of abbreviations of technicalities (even when you aren’t counting all the strange anglicismes such as flyers, brainstorming, and the like, all said in a heavy French accent). I’m not exactly shy, especially in English, but I sometimes lack confidence, and the last thing I was prepared to do was to direct a group of strong personalities aged 20-26, albeit close friends. But, as a close friend of mine told me yesterday, Qui ne tente rien n’a rien – (My favorite English equivalent is, Nothing ventured, nothing gained). And now, looking back on the meeting, I think it mostly went well!  Who knows, maybe I’ll be asking for a pay raise soon on my teaching English job?!  Now there’s a terrifying idea…!

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Round One

Can it really be nearly four months since I’ve moved back to Amiens? Is it really minus 2 degrees Celsius outside? Am I really starting to think in Celsius?

I suppose you could say it’s the beginning of the end.  After all, today is the end of the world, according to the Aztec (or was it Mayan?) calendar.  I’m starting to think in weird English constructions, such as “arrived to the seashore” or “he has the same age as me.”  The French is leaking into my very pores, creating a weird hybrid American-European.  Soon I will no longer be able to speak English or French like a native speaker… I keep wanting to shout “la relation predicative est présentée à l’interlocuteur comme définitivement acquise, non suspectible d’être remise en question,” but then I know that people will think I am really bizarre, even French people.  It must be an effect of too much studying and not enough time sleeping.

I am now done with the first round of exams for my first semester of my Master’s.  Normally exams take place after the Christmas holidays, but as my research-based Master’s overlaps with the teaching-focused Master’s (the one I should have signed up for if I knew what I was doing upon arriving), we are mostly graded in the form of contrôle continu, that is to say, various small exams or oral presentations both during and at the end of the semester, instead of one final exam.  Moreover, the teaching-based Master students are all doing a two-week practicum during the “official” exam session in January, when I myself will be taking two more exams on theoretical approaches to research.

I really do feel like I have finished the first round in a boxing ring.  After months of attending classes, preparing each week’s translation, and bustling to and from the university, I finally had a string of graded exams and presentations all in a row.  First I had my two cexams for translation, one for which I still don’t know the grade and the other a complete disaster (in translating from English to French I got a 4/20, which I consider to be the equivalent of an F–). I then gave an oral presentation about the prologue to John Dos Passos’s USA trilogy, all in English, in a very strict form of literary commentary.  The teacher really liked what I had done and would have given me a 16-18/20, but alas… I’m only auditing this class (it’s a class specific to the teaching-focused Master’s and thus won’t factor into my grade, although it will give me an idea of what to prepare for the CAPES in June).  This week, it was intense: two translation exams back to back on very complex vocabularly (would you know how to translate terms like “shoreleave” “tour of duty” or “cooing babytalk at someone” in another language, or recognize the word for “dragonfly” and “sheepfold”?)  Tuesday evening, I had a two-hour exam in which I had identify the invariants (basic unchanging definition) of all the modal verbs in the English language (shall, will, should, would, can, may, could, might, do, must) and correctly translate them in context (I keep failing to identify the “resultatives” – i.e., when you express two sentences in one, in ending with a result.  He wiped the blade clean, being the equivalent of “He wiped the blade” and “The blade became clean” – you’d think it’d be easy as a native speaker to analyze my own language, but I simply speak it without bothering to question why…).  Finally, this morning, I had to write a commentary on the idea of translating “accurately” and “faithfully” as well as the difference between this and that (a lot more complicated than it appears!) and the differences in meaning between the imparfait (in French) and the BE + V-ing form in English.  These types of classes definitely make you question your own language as much as the foreign one.

On another note, Amiens is absolutely gorgeous at this time of year…

Me and my brother

Me and my brother

There are lights up everywhere, as well as the Marché de Noël (an annual Christmas market that takes up the whole shopping district right near where I live), which will continue until January 1, 2013.

Next up: Round two (aka as a series of long essays in English and French about various literary/ linguistic topics as well as an outline of my thesis on Harry Potter



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Exam Season

It’s clearly exam season.  I have two translation exams today, an hour and a half in thème (French-English) and an hour and a half in version (English-French), back to back.  Tomorrow I have a two-hour exam on linguistic analysis of a translation, all three of these exams resembling half of the required teaching examinations in June.  Then on Wednesday I have a two-hour commentary on the linguistic aspects of translation, as one of my four required seminar classes this semester.  For my other three, I still have an oral presentation in linguistics on the English-words found in French gastronomy (there aren’t too many) and a 5-10 page paper to write on the same subject; a  5 page paper on Children’s literature in Great Britain; and a 6-8 page paper on the motif/metaphor of the sea in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.  Not to mention my first outline for my 30-page thesis on the translations of Harry Potter 1 & 2 from English to French.  And then when I come back from Christmas break, I’ll have two more exams to take on the theoretical approaches of research, both an hour and a half long.

So I must beg you to forgive my tardiness in updating my blog.

All my best,


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