Le commencement

Today began my seven-month English teaching stint in France! I will be working with elementary school kids in three schools in Velizy, a suburb of Paris. The TAPIF program is run through the French embassy. Every year, they bring 4,500 assistants in from 60 different countries to teach 15 different languages. About 1,200 are American.

For the first day today, there was a training and administrative session for all of the English language teaching assistants in the region. The whole morning was spent signing on dotted lines, checking boxes, and learning the subtleties of French insurance. French bureaucracy and paperwork are infamous but it wasn’t too bad to go through when there was someone there to hold our hands.

The teaching training session was quite helpful. I feel more comfortable now I know their expectations for me as an assistant. I will be working with the teacher, facilitating activities that increase cultural awareness and enhance the pupils’ speaking, reading, writing, listening, and conversation skills. The ministry of education has gathered tools and links to websites upon websites of games, stories, songs, videos, and texts that I can adapt for my lessons.

The importance of speaking extremely slowly, clearly, and simply was stressed. I was surprised to learn that we should never, ever speak to the students in French, although this is a relief to me because I am not yet fluent in French. When they don’t understand we have to get the ideas through with gestures, repetition, and pictures. Another surprising thing is that we should not write the English words on the board for the younger students. French kids are taught English by ear until they are 10. The logic is that English spelling is so wacky that it will confuse the young students beyond repair. When I am learning another language, I need to see new vocabulary written down, otherwise it goes in one ear and out the other! But that might be one of the differences between learning a second language as an adult as opposed to as a child.

It was a relief to meet the other English assistants of the region! 2/3rds are British, and most of them are French majors still in university. This kind of program is an option for them instead of studying abroad or doing an internship abroad. Most of the American assistants are recent graduates, like me.

My fellow assistants  and I
My fellow assistants and I

It was surreal to hear the British assistants talking about going home occasionally for a weekend. To think that London is so close is incredible! Only 4.5 hours away by car. Myself, I am just looking forward to going home for Christmas.

One of the most important reasons that this program exists is so that French students can learn English from someone with a ‘bon accent’. But there are many kinds of English accents and they are quite different from one other! I think it would difficult to learn from an American one year, an Australian the next, and then from a Brit. I had to concentrate quite a bit more than usual over lunch while I was chatting with some Brits in order to follow the conversation.

I am lucky because my contact person in Velizy has reached out to me and been responsive through email, which is not the case with some other assistants, who still weren’t sure what school they would be working in, or what time to show up there for their first day tomorrow! At 9 am tomorrow I will report to Velizy to meet teachers and staff at the elementary schools and probably fill out some more paperwork. Next week I will spend time observing the English classes and the 12th, I will begin teaching.

Notre Dame

I arrived a week ago to settle in and enjoy myself a bit before work started. This past week has been beautifully sunny, (which is rare in Paris) and not too cold yet. Cyril’s friend Chèdid remarked to me, “It is incredible, it seems that you have brought the sun with you!” I spent a great deal of time outside exploring the city.  This past weekend was the ‘Fête des Jardins’. All the gardens of the city of Paris were free and open to the public, including the ones located on historic sites and in ancient monasteries.  Saturday I dragged Cyril to the other side of Paris to visit the Parc Floral. The botanic garden has several prominent botanical and horticultural collections, including Dahlias, Irises, Astilbes, Geraniums, Pelargoniums, Ferns, and even Jurrasic plants. The Dahlias were breathtaking in full bloom. My plant geek self was in heaven.

Lovely Dahlias
Lovely Dahlias

We took a group tour of the garden, and I was very encouraged by how much of the French I understood. It helped that french botanical terms are almost identical to their English counterparts, albeit spoken with an accent. I normally have difficulty understanding French people in normal conversation. They don’t enunciate clearly and speak too fast. I cannot wait until I am fluent.

Parc Floral de Paris

In the park, Cyril and I played a game of minigolf, which is a rare treat in France. The concept of the course was fun. All of the holes were represented by mini Parisian monuments, and they were arranged spatially in reference to each other as they would be in real life, complete with a moat for the Seine River.  Unfortunately, Cyril won, so I will never hear the end of it.

Cyril tried to convince me to pose with my losing score
Cyril tried to convince me to pose with my losing score

Sunday was ‘Journée sans Voiture’ or a day without cars. Parts of the city were closed off to cars from 11 am to 6 pm. It was lovely! Cyril and I biked from Boulogne to the city center using the bike share system Velib. Most impressively, in the center of Paris,the famous boulevard Champs-Élysées was full of people and bikes. The sight reminded Cyril of photos he had seen of the boulevard in 1998 after the French won the world cup and shut down the streets with their partying.

In front of the Champs-Élysées
In front of the Champs-Élysées

That night we met up with some friends to see a variety show. Many of the performers were comedians, and about 95% of what they said went right over my head. The excellent in-house band played mostly american music in between acts so they were my reward for trying so hard to understand what was going on.

More adventures to follow. Thanks for reading, friends and fam:)

Dinner cruise on the Seine
Dinner cruise on the Seine
Théâtre de la Ville
Théâtre de la Ville

4 thoughts on “Le commencement

  1. Erin Pfarr

    Erin, thank you for your informative and well written account of your experiences thus far. So glad you had some time before you began your job! Went to Northfield last night and watched Amber play volleyball and they played well, winning their first conference game. ( Playing against Carleton ) Quin and Alex are the homecoming queen and king. Mason was up for it but his best friend got it instead. Your parents are very busy right now, of course, and the weather has been cooperating. Greet Cyril for us. Love you much, grandma


  2. Denise Schuft

    Hi Erin- Loved your narration and pictures of what you are up to in Paris. Enjoy your time and see you at Christmas.
    Love you lots- Denise


  3. Pingback: Goodbye France! – Erin in Paris

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