So Much More Than a Paperweight

Chapter 3 of
My Life as an English Teacher in France

A few weeks ago, we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. I decided not to write a new article about that momentous day; instead, I shared two earlier articles about the history of the landings and about my first visit to Omaha Beach. Normally, that would have been the end of je parle américain‘s D-Day commemoration, but something subsequently happened at work that I need to share … Continue reading So Much More Than a Paperweight

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“Don’t forget your home-work, darling!”

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of …

My Life as an English Teacher in France
(Chapter 2)

So, as you know, I’ve been working as an English teacher in Paris for about four months now. In that time, I’ve had some interesting experiences. This week, though, I had the experience to beat all experiences …  Continue reading “Don’t forget your home-work, darling!”

My Life as an English Teacher in France: The Saga Begins

Hey everybody!
I’m back!

I know what you’re thinking: “Where in the world have you been?!” It’s been almost two months since my last post, and some of you certainly started to wonder what had become of me. Well, you can now rest assured that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, I haven’t been deported from France, and I haven’t given up on je parle américain. I’ve just been very busy the last few weeks. More French classes? Writing that historical novel? Well, no … I’ve been working … finally … as an English teacher.

Continue reading My Life as an English Teacher in France: The Saga Begins

Mon époux

Last Friday, I celebrated my third wedding anniversary! It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three years since that magic day. We shared a wonderful evening of fun and food to celebrate, but this article isn’t about that at all. Those of you who know me well won’t be too surprised to learn that my anniversary celebration eventually turned to a discussion of linguistics and etymology. “Etymology on your anniversary?!” Yes, yes … I know. I’m a geek. I admit it. That’s the real testament to our marriage, after all: that my incessant droning about language and history hasn’t resulted in divorce proceedings!

So how did this subject even come up? Well, it has to do with the French word for husband. (See? There is a connection!) The French have a couple of ways to say the word — mari or époux — and it’s the latter that sparked the idea for this article. You see, while the English word “husband” doesn’t come from French (like “wife,” it’s from Old English), the general term for the person you’re married to (your “spouse“) does.  Continue reading Mon époux

The “All Good” Law

Languages are always evolving, and the speed at which they’re doing it has only increased in recent years. Broader international travel, continued waves of migration, and the dawn of the Information Age have made cultural exchange, including the importation of words from other languages, quicker and easier than ever before. There’s a clear trade imbalance, though, and it’s English that’s the chief exporter these days. And the French are very sensitive to that. Continue reading The “All Good” Law

Le petit chapeau

Disclaimer: I’m not a linguist (yet) so, if you are one, please be gentle in your reactions if I’ve gotten something completely wrong …

As English speakers, one of the first things we notice about French is the widespread use of diacritical marks — or “accents” to be less linguistic about it. For students of the language (native speakers and non-native speakers alike) they can sometimes be the bane our existence. Accents obviously aren’t necessary — we don’t really use them in English, after all* — but they serve important functions in the languages that do use them. Sometimes, they denote a change in the pronunciation of the underlying letter. In French, for example, ça and ca don’t sound the same. Sometimes, though, accents don’t change the pronunciation at all; instead, they serve an orthographic (spelling) function to distinguish homophones. For example, la and là sound exactly the same in French but have entirely different meanings. Even though modern French is full of accents (the accent aigu, the accent grave, the tréma, etc.), they were introduced relatively late to the language. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find many diacritical marks in a text from the Middle Ages. So what explains their introduction? Well, a comprehensive account of the evolution of French accents is thankfully far too complex to go into here, but I do want to talk about one in particular that has an interesting story and implications for English-speaking students of French:

le petit chapeau … the little hat … the circumflex Continue reading Le petit chapeau

“He took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.”

I’m a nerd.

Today, I watched the season one finale of GleeAs you probably all know, Glee is a musical comedy television show about a fictional high school glee club in small-town Ohio. I’ll admit it — I’m a fan. It’s kitschy and the music is almost always top notch — especially when Mercedes is belting it out. Anyway, during the season finale, the glee club ended up choosing a medley of Journey songs for their number at the Midwest regional competition. Here’s how they opened their performance:

Not bad, huh?

They closed with “Don’t Stop Believin'” — of course. It was their anthem, after all. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good YouTube clip of that part of the performance.) Anyway …”What,” I’m sure you’re wondering, “besides being such a Glee fan that I’m paying homage to it on my blog, makes me such a nerd?”  Well, as soon as I saw Will Schuester write the word “JOURNEY” on his big flipchart in the rehearsal room at the beginning of that episode, two things immediately came to mind: Continue reading “He took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.”

Labor Disputes, Wooden Shoes, and Italian Bread

Today’s “French English” word is “sabotage.” Everyone, I’m sure, knows what sabotage means: as a verb, it means to deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct something; as a noun, it’s the act of doing that. But where does the word come from? As it turns out, “sabotage” has a direct relation to wooden shoes. “Wooden shoes?” you ask. Why, yes. Here’s how …

We generally associate wooden shoes with the Dutch, of course, who are often stereotypically depicted wearing them while picking tulips in front of their windmills. They weren’t the only people, however, who traditionally wore these clunky things; in fact, they were common among peasants all over Europe, including France, where they were called “sabots.” Eventually, sabot also became a slang term for the poor country folk who, during France’s Industrial Revolution, were brought into the cities to work in the factories when city dwellers went on strike. The verb “saboter” had originally been used in French to mean “to knock or tap with the foot” or “to walk noisily,” from the sound the wooden shoes would make on cobblestones, but with the arrival of these sabots in the factories, the word took on a new meaning. Because the sabot-wearing peasants weren’t familiar with the modern machinery, saboter became slang for “to bungle a job” and “sabotage” became the slang term for their poor quality work. Every strike has its end, though, and the city-dwelling workforce eventually returned to the factories. But they’d apparently learned a new bargaining tactic from the sabotsContinue reading Labor Disputes, Wooden Shoes, and Italian Bread

Make Yourself Comfortable

One of the “French English” words that I love most is “comfortable” because … well, like most people, I like being comfortable in a comfortable place. That’s one of the great things about the word — it can describe both someone who’s in a state of physical or mental comfort and the thing or condition that makes them that way. “I’m so comfortable when I’m lying in my comfortable bed!” Like that. Little did I know when I came to France, though, the French equivalent “confortable” doesn’t work quite the same way …

As much as I like being comfortable, I like to know that the people around me are comfortable, too. I’m almost nebby about it … “Is everything alright? Are you okay? Can I get you something? Are you comfortable?” Whether it was on the sofa while watching a movie, in a train on our vacation, or during a quick aside when meeting my family or friends, I was constantly asking my husband Michel if he was comfortable …

Ça va? Tu es confortable?

On the outside, Michel was telling me that everything was fine but, on the inside, he was apparently laughing at me. Continue reading Make Yourself Comfortable

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

© Sura Nualpradid

Hey … remember me?

Yeah, it has been a while. I know that I told you I’d try to post something every now and then while slogging through my CELTA training course, but it really hasn’t been an option, guys. I promise.

Here’s a picture of what my average day has been like for the last three weeks:

I wake up around 5 a.m., practicing the day’s lesson plan in my head and obsessing over the gaps that I couldn’t recall during my anxiety-ridden dreams, I try to go back to sleep, and I succeed in dozing until around 7:15 a.m. (or 6:45 a.m. on days when I have teaching practice). Then it’s up and at ’em … I arrive at school some time between 8:15 a.m. and 8:45 a.m., where I print out lesson plans, exercises and materials, or written assignments.

Our instructional sessions start at 9:15 a.m. That’s where we learn about every conceivable facet of teaching methodology (and a bit of English grammar to boot). Then it’s “teaching practice consolidation” from about 12:30 p.m. until about 1:00 p.m., when we review our lesson plans with the other trainees who will be teaching during the same 2-hour class in the afternoon. (Since we have 40-minute lessons each on the days when we teach, there are always two other trainees with whom we have to coordinate our lessons to ensure that the afternoon is a cohesive and productive experience for the students.) Then comes lunch, but I don’t really eat much, because I’m usually spending that hour or so revising my lesson plan, making last-minute changes to the materials, and nervously anticipating my lesson. Then it’s show time—a two-hour lesson for a class of anywhere from four to ten EFL students!

Continue reading The Light at the End of the Tunnel