Goodbye France!

I have been back in the US for a month now and have had time to reflect more on my experience in France. I wanted to wrap up my blog with a few of the highlights of my time abroad.

  • Friends and family

First and foremost, it was special forming a real relationship with Cyril’s family, getting to know his friends to the point of them becoming my friends, and also adventuring out and making my own friends. Learning French enabled me to do this which brings me to my next highlight.

Cyril and I with his mom and stepdad

The sunny south

  • French

I am now comfortable speaking French! It is no easy task learning another language; living in France and surrounding myself with French was necessary. I still remember how the language sounded before I started learning; completely alien and unintelligible! The process has been like a blurry picture slowly coming into focus. Very rewarding as one of my life goals was to become fluent in another language.

Thoughts on learning French

Embarrassing things I have said in French

Embarrassing things I have said in French Round 2

Embarrassing things I have said in French-round 3

  • Volleyball

I loved playing volleyball with ACBB, first as part of the Panda’s and then with the departmental woman’s team. I am not sure if the endeavor was a net loss or gain of calories though, with all of the aperitifs after the games and drinks after the Friday night practices:)



  • Visitors

Visits in France from my favorite people were the best. I adored playing the tour guide and showing them around.

  • Paris

What an amazing city! I got to know it intimately by walking around and getting lost, biking with velib, and doing a book of paper chases. The museums are world-class and the parks are lovely- one of my favorites was right next to my home.

Parc de Billancourt cannot be beat in March!
  • Food adventures

French cuisine lives up to its reputation; eating out and family meals were always a treat. My favorites were cheese and fresh bread. We had 4 bakeries within 10 minute walking distance, something I will miss dearly in the US.

Six week mark ramblings


Misadventures in Easter egg dyeing

Mmmm frog legs!
  • The Euro football championship

Last June and July were crazy with the Euro in full swing. If only France had beaten Portugal in the Finals!

Euro 2016


  • The 2017 French presidential elections

It was a roller coaster election that unfolded with scandals, plot twists, and unlikely candidates gaining prominence. It was fascinating to see the process from beginning to end. The political atmosphere was tumultuous with the French wrestling with many of the same issues as Americans had a few months before. In the end there were many records broken, some good some bad, including the youngest president ever, the largest voting abstention rates ever, the first time that neither of the two major parties’ candidates made it to the final voting round, and the most legislative turnover ever. Even though it was long, drawn-out, and stressful at times, this was a highlight because I felt like I bonded with the French through the process.

  • Teaching

I enjoyed the challenge of teaching. I learned a lot about myself and more about English grammar than I ever cared to know. The students were really the best part of the gig. My elementary class students were so darn cute and my private lesson students all had interesting personalities and different learning styles.

Le commencement

Week one impressions

French kids say the darnedest things

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 2

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 3

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 4

French kids say the darnedest things round 5

English is Weird

English is Weird Reprise

American and French Education, contrasted


  • Comedy

It was a lot of fun going to the smallest, most tucked away comedy clubs of the capital and paying 10 euros to see talented comedians who weren’t famous yet.
Cyril went up on stage at our favorite open mic, first as a special audience guest, then as a performer doing his first ever 5 minute stand up set! (Pst if you speak French don’t forget to ask him to see the video).


  • Traveling

We traveled extensively, often to visit family and friends in far off places.

In France we visited Normandy, Alsace, Angers, Verdun, Dreux, the French Alps, the Drôme, and Montpellier (more times than I can count). We also went to the Netherlands, London, Venice, Munich, Vienna, and Morocco (Blog post #2).

It was a lovely two years of my life! Leaving was bittersweet but tomorrow I am opening up a new chapter- graduate school at Rutgers in New Jersey!

À très bientôt la France!


Resources for ESL teachers

I spent a lot of time, energy, trial, and error to find good, reasonably priced resources for my English students. I made this post to dump all this knowledge in one place. Hopefully it will be useful to English teachers, especially TAPIF program participants, that stumble across my blog:)

Songs for kids
There are a lot of great, free songs for kids on the internet. I am a firm believer that songs are one of the best tools in an ESL classroom for kids.

  • Super Simple Songs

This channel has amazing songs for children, many of which are simple enough for absolute beginners. After one or two times of listening to ‘Do you like Broccoli Ice Cream?’ kids can ask, ‘Do you like?’ and respond ‘Yes I do’ or ‘No I don’t.’ Amazing!

This next song is great for teaching ‘Can’, as well as animals and simple action verbs.

Other songs that are great from this channel: Ten in the bed, How’s the Weather?, Walking in the jungle, I have a pet, Put on your shoes, Down by the bay (more advanced)

  • Carolyn Graham-Jazz Chants for children method

I didn’t follow her method, but I did use some of her songs, including the Hello Song

This is the perfect song to sing the first lesson, especially with 6-8-year-olds. After singing it a few times, try going around and pointing to students to sing the solo part. Even if the first time they are shy and only want to say their name, it is ok.

  • Dream English Kids

His songs are a bit cheesy and extremely simple but they are perfect for young beginners.

  • Number rock

I sang this song a million and one times over the past two years.  The kids brought it up constantly, ‘Can we sing the song with the moving house?

  • ABC rock

By the same people as number rock- equally good.

  • The greetings song

Another cheesy song, but perfect for teaching good morning, afternoon, evening, and night.

  • This is a Cat!

A great, simple song for teaching animals!

  • The to be song

This song was a go to for me when teaching ‘to be’ conjugation. The kids really rock out when it speeds up at the end.

The leprechaun song

On the cultural side of the spectrum, I showed this song to students when we talked about St. Patrick’s day

  • We’re going to the zoo

A little more advanced but catchy.

  • Hello Goodbye

Sometimes popular songs can be good too, like Hello Goodbye from the Beatles:)


Meg and Mog is a great resource. These short cartoons are simple and very visual. For absolute beginners it is helpful to pick out little bits of vocabulary and present them beforehand. I especially like the Christmas one!


  • ESL Kid Stuff

I relied heavily on this site for my classes. I didn’t necessarily follow the lesson plans but their materials are awesome. Most lessons include flashcards, worksheets, songs, and storybooks that all integrate the same target vocabulary or grammar. It is a subscription service but at $29/year it doesn’t break the bank.

I also signed up for their newer sister site ESL Teen Stuff, but I wasn’t as happy with the quality of the materials. Stick to the kid one!

ESL Kid Stuff website

  • La Classe de Mallory

This is a great free resource for teaching English culture to French children in grades CE2-CM2. Most of the cultural explanations are in French, with some vocabulary and an activity in English. Some of the subjects covered include Thanksgiving, Halloween, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, and the Sydney Opera House. The site also has other English resources that I never used but would be worth looking through.

La classe de Mallory English cultural files

  • LearnEnglish Kids -British council

This is a great free website for middle or advanced elementary school students. Their videos about famous historical figures’ lives and accompanying worksheets are professionally done. They also have short stories and fables that are appropriate for younger students.

Florence Nightingale-British council video

  • ISL Collective

ISL Collective is a large online powerpoint and worksheet resource. It is free but you have to make member account. You can upload worksheets to share with others and download worksheets that others have put on the site. The quality of materials varies because they are made by random people but there is some really great stuff to be found!

ISL Collective website

Workbooks for children

For one-on-one lessons with slightly more advanced young children I found two small workbooks that I loved.

  • 100 Words that Kids Need to Read by _____ Grade

These workbooks are great for teaching vocabulary and practicing spelling with games! There are several different levels, from 1st-3rd grade. They run for about $4/book so they are very affordable!

100 Words Kids Need to Read by 1st Grade

  • Scholastic Success with Reading Comprehension

These are even more advanced books for ESL children. I used them with a private lesson student that was attending a bilingual school. The activities on each page are creatively educational, providing ample opportunities to introduce and review vocabulary and check reading comprehension! There are 5 different level books, each less than $5.

Scholastic Success With Reading Comprehension: Grade 1

Story Books for Children

Very simple, repetitive books are perfect to use in lessons. My favorites included:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? By Bill Martin Jr.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Adult resources

Teaching adults is completely different than teaching kids and finding the right resources is crucial to being successful.

  • Market Leader

Market Leader is my go to book for business English learners. There are 5 different levels and free samples available online to try before committing to buy a book. They are on the expensive side at around $30/book. I find that only buying the student book is sufficient. The teacher’s book is not worth the extra money.

Market Leader website

  • English File

English File is the best resource I found for adults learning general English. The 6 level series’ lessons are really interesting and seamlessly integrate reading, writing, listening, and grammar. Like the Market leader books, they are expensive, and the teacher’s book is not necessary to buy.

English File website

  • Hilfen English

This website is my favorite to use when I need to find additional explanations or practice questions on grammar points for my students.

Hilfen English website

I hope this is helpful! If you have any other ESL resources that you would like to share in the comments feel free!


American and French Education, contrasted

As I was working as an assistant in French elementary schools for the past two years, I couldn’t help but notice the differences between the French and American school systems. Some are small, like crossing 7’s, and some are huge, like the French baccalaureate.

As a caveat, I have never actually taught in American public schools. All of my knowledge comes from going through the system as a student, so perhaps some of it is out of date or skewed by my memories. Also I am from Minnesota, and all of my knowledge is from that area of the US. I know schools can differ a lot depending on the area of the country.

So for the info of future TAPIF language program assistants or anyone that is simply curious:

  • Small differences at the elementary school level

First of all, in France all the students use erasable pens to write. In my schooling, I wasn’t allowed to go near a pen until high school.

They are taught to write their 1’s, 7’s, and 9’s slightly differently. I didn’t want to cross my sevens or cap my ones but I ended up doing it when I wrote on the board because it confused the kids when I didn’t. (Erin? Is that a seven or a one?)

french writing

French elementary students are very strictly taught to write in cursive as well. And they continue to do it through the rest of their schooling and into their adult life (even though it isn’t required anymore).  I remember my elementary school teachers were very strict about cursive as well, but as soon as we entered middle school it fell by the wayside and nobody used it anymore.

Split level classes are quite common. For example, I often taught in classes that were half 7-year-olds and half 9-year-olds.  It is a lot of work for the teachers because they have to teach constantly. They teach one group a lesson, then give them something to work on quietly while they teach the other group’s lesson and keep switching back and forth like that. Some teachers enjoy the challenge and think it is good for the kids to be exposed to the other lessons. The advanced kids in the younger class can learn something from older class’s lessons, and the struggling kids in the older class can review the basics from the younger class’s lessons.

The closest American equivalent that I had heard of was the one-room prairie school house concept.

The elementary schools I worked in rarely had substitute teachers. If a teacher was absent, they split up the class into all the other classes. The kids had to sit in the back of the classrooms and work quietly on their own. One teacher I talked to about this said their national education budget was cut recently so there isn’t much money for substitutes. Substitutes are first sent to small schools with only one class (or less) per grade because they can’t break up their classes easily into the other ones.

French teachers are not afraid to hold back students if they feel like they are not ready to move on, even in high school. It happens much more often than in the US, and there isn’t as much stigma attached to it. However, because of a recent education reform in France, teachers are no longer allowed to hold kids back at the elementary level (This may change again soon; every new administration that comes into power brings its own reforms.)

  • Grade names

The grades are not named the same of course



At the end of lycée ( the equivalent of high school) there is this huge test called the Baccalaureate (often referred to as the Bac). French people don’t talk in terms of high school diplomas, they say they ‘have the Bac’.

The Bac is a cultural phenomenon, a stressful test that looms over every high school student’s head. It takes several days and there are oral and written portions for each subject.

In the US getting a high school diploma is more about passing all of the required classes. In Minnesota there are a few state assessment tests students take throughout high school, but they don’t affect their graduation and are used more of a way to judge the schools. The SAT/ACT tests are taken to get into colleges but they test critical thinking skills rather than depth of knowledge in a specific subject.

  • Earlier specialization, but more rigid

At the beginning of high school, French students chose a specialization. The three main ones are Science, Literature, and Economics and Social Sciences. They follow a relatively rigid set of coursework through high school up through the Bac. In the US, students don’t technically specialize, but as they progress, they have more freedom to choose the classes they would like to take.

This continues in college. A three year french ‘Licence’ is the equivalent of a four year American bachelor’s degree. Why? Because Americans have a lot of general education credits, even in college. French people find it strange I had to take a history class in order to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Horticulture! I really like this type of well-rounded education, but I know other Americans who think these types of requirements are a waste of time.

In the United States it is also possible to have two different ‘majors’ or a ‘major’ and ‘minor’.  It wouldn’t have been possible for me to do an art minor in France.

  • College admissions

College admission in the US seems to be based more on a variety of factors. Admission counselors look at an applicant’s high school transcript, extra-curricular activities, SAT/ACT scores, and application essays.

In France, in order to get into good universities, especially for business, engineering and health sciences, they have to pass specific standardized tests. Only their test scores determine their entry. It seems like a very high stakes affair. In order to prepare, they often go to ‘preparatory’ schools for two years after high school.

  • School calendar and schedule

French schools start in September and go until the beginning of July, but there is a lot of vacation in between. Students normally go to school for six weeks, and then have two weeks off. In the US school vacations are few and far between. We got a week and a half for Christmas, two days for Thanksgiving, one week for spring break, and then some random teacher workdays and snow days (yeah Minnesota!).

French schools normally have all Wednesday afternoons off, but French middle and high school students have longer days M T Th and F, going from 8:30 am to 6 pm! Until a few years ago French students had Wednesdays off and half days on Saturdays.

The lunch break at French schools is quite long, about an hour and a half. Students at the elementary school can either leave to eat at home or stay at school and eat hot lunch served by the cafeteria. American students are not usually allowed to leave for lunch time, but if they don’t want to eat the cafeteria lunch they are allowed to bring their own.

  • Centralized organization

The French public school system is very centrally organized, rigid, and bureaucratic. For example, all the school vacation days are decided at the national level, whereas in the US that would be decided more locally on the state or even district level. Even the assistant program I went through was organized nationally. My district had no power to extend my contract or hire me on themselves. I knew someone who was training to be a teacher. She had to pass a high stakes entrance exam (she chose the hardest region, Paris), and when she was accepted, was placed in a school there. She could give her preference on what neighborhood she wanted to be in, but that was about it. In the future, she can’t just decide that she wants to move to the south of France and teach there. She would have to request a transfer, and have a good reason for it, for example if her partner had gotten a new job there.

  • Education level

American teachers need bachelor’s degrees and state teaching licenses. All french teachers, including those at the pre-school level, have to have master’s degrees. A teacher once complained to me that teaching is the lowest paid profession in France which requires a master’s degree.

  • Sports and extracurricular activities

Sports and extracurricular activities in the US are tightly linked to the school system. Middle schools, high schools, and universities have sports teams and mascots and play each other competitively. Sports are a bigger deal in the US because of this. There are even music and theater school competitions!

Sports in France are linked to city clubs, not schools. Kids can join a club team and continue playing with clubs as long as they want to, as they also organize adult teams.

  • Language

Kids start learning a second language very early in France, with many starting the basics of English in 1st grade. Then they pick up a third language starting between 5th and 8th grade! I know that it greatly varies in the US, but I didn’t start learning a second language until I was in 9th grade, and there were kids in my high school that never took one at all because it wasn’t required.

  • Religion

French people are super strict about their public schools being secular. Of course, in the United States, teachers are not allowed to teach religion, but in France since 2004 no one is allowed to wear any religious symbols or clothing. This law was pretty clearly aimed at Muslims but basically kids can’t wear large crosses, kippas, or headscarves at school. In the US a law like that would be brought to the supreme court by religious freedom activists faster than you could snap your fingers.

At the same time, there is a very culturally Catholic aspect of France which given their insistence on secularism is a bit destabilizing. For example, many schools put up a Christmas tree in their entrance halls, elementary school teachers often have advent calendars, and students get off of school for religious holidays like the Ascension. Hmmm…

  • Grading Scale

Grading works differently as well. Compared to the American scale, the French one seems a bit harsh.

In the United States we use the ABCDF scale, while in France it goes from 20 to 1 (where 20 is 100%, 18 is 90% etc). A good student in France regularly gets 15’s, the equivalent of a C in the US. Meanwhile, a 19, the French equivalent of an A, is almost unheard of! I know middle schoolers that regularly get 9’s.

But I have noticed that culturally the French tend to underrate things (at least from my American point of view). For example, on public rating sites like Trip Advisor, I often see French reviews for restaurants that look like this:

Excellent food and wine selection, the owner himself came to welcome us to his restaurant. We will definitely be coming back.

But it is marked 4 stars out of 5!

In the US, if everything is very good and we have nothing to complain about a restaurant, business, or museum, we will mark 5 stars. In France it has to be exceptional for them to do that.  It isn’t that they love to complain (although that is a stereotype about French people), it is just they have really high standards.

Perhaps this mentality starts at school with their grading system.


I hope you have found this post interesting and educational! I would like to hear your thoughts if you agree or disagree with me about the French or American education system!

Embarrassing things I have said in French-round 3

Last September, I realized that even though I was comfortable speaking French, I was very bad at writing it! I had been speaking French with Cyril for months but was still texting him in English- so I deciding to take the next step and text in French as often as possible. Even more opportunities to make mistakes!


I messaged Cyril, Your check deposit slips stopped by! (I wanted to say that they had come in the mail)
So he messed with me and messaged back, Did they say hi?
I wrote, Who?
He said, You know, the check deposit slips!
And then I realized my mistake!

The other day I texted Cyril to bring my leather jacket but ended up asking for my ‘vest to cook’ (veste à cuire vs vest en cuir).

I recently came across an interesting article that talked about how our morality can change in another language and why. Swear words and harsh words just don’t seem as bad in a second language because there isn’t an emotional history that goes with them. F*** seems super harsh but the French equivalent ‘putain’ seems chill to me.
Sometimes when I am joking around with friends in French I use words that are actually pretty harsh. Also, some words are way heavier in one language than their literal translations in the other.
Once, a friend was talking about how he beat the odds because he has a pretty good life even though he bumped his head a decent amount when he was a kid.
I said jokingly, ‘Well you are still pretty young, you could still turn out to be a failure, and you don’t know it yet.’ Everybody was like ‘OMG that is harsh!!!!’ ‘Wow, sucker punch!’ Apparently in French you don’t joke around with the word failure.

Once, Cyril and I were talking about Harry Potter. I used the word banette for wand (that is the word that I thought I had heard Cyril use just a few minutes before) and he laughed like crazy. (Banette is a type of bread.) He said, ‘No it is called a baguette!’ And I was like ‘Haha very funny, stop pulling my leg,’ and he insisted ‘I am being 100 percent serious…’
Banette, baguette, what’s the difference anyways? They are both types of bread.
Can we all just agree that it is hilarious that wizards in France fight with baguettes?!?!
Now I know that baguette wasn’t originally the name for a type of bread. The bread was named baguette because it was shaped like a baguette, aka a stick. **mind blown**

This is an anecdote that I remembered from the beginning of my time in France and have forgotten to share before. Once, I was hanging out with Cyril and a friend in a cafe and I was having trouble following the conversation. It seemed to me that they kept bringing up Jews into the conversation- I couldn’t understand why. I jumped into the conversation, ‘Why do you guys keep talking about Jews?’ ‘Jews? We aren’t talking about Jews?! We are talking about slapping each other!’ (Which is something French people like to joke about doing to people when they say stupid things.) (juifs vs. gifles-they don’t look alike on spelling but they have similar pronunciations)

Last year I joined a club volleyball team. When we played matches competitively, I would get into it and yell encouragement. Sometimes I yelled out the same phrases I would have used in English, translating them directly into French. Occasionally my teammates would look at me strangely and ask, ‘What are you even saying? That doesn’t make any sense…’

Once I asked a volleyball friend if she was going to sleep in the next day, using the expression ‘faire la grasse mat‘ except I said ‘faire la grosse mat.‘ (to do a fat morning vs to do a big morning) She laughed, ‘Wow that is the cutest thing I have ever heard, I think I might adopt your expression from now on!’

Last Thanksgiving I cooked a big turkey for an American feast for my friends. After they had dug into their meal, I asked them, ‘How do you guys like the bird?’ Apparently in French you cannot refer to a turkey as a bird.
They thought it was the funniest thing ever…

At a restaurant once I asked for a magret de connard… the waiter laughed and said, ‘There’s plenty around but we don’t serve them.’
Instead of duck breast, I had asked for breast of ***hole/ jerk (magret de canard vs magret de connard)

Last but not least, once I was showing a class a few slides about American breakfast that I had put together. I spoke in English and then translated what I said into French (the kids have a very basic level so I translated when I talked about culture).
I said, ‘In the US for breakfast we like to eat pancakes, waffles, or French toast with maple syrup.’ However, when I translated, the class gasped, and the teacher stepped in quickly. ‘MAPLE syrup children, she meant MAPLE syrup.’ I realized that instead of saying maple syrup, I had said Arabic syrup, literally syrup made of Arabs. 😱
After the teacher stepped in a kid in the front row, Arabic, relaxed visibly, ‘Whew, I was afraid there for a moment!’
This is the second time I have messed up the pronunciation of maple (érable) with Arab (arabe).

French kids say the darnedest things round 5

I recently completed my last week working in my schools as part of the TAPIF program. It was bittersweet. I am excited to move on to grad school next year, but I was sad to say goodbye to my kids and fellow teachers.  These past two years I have taught in the same three schools and have gotten to know people pretty well. Teaching young kids wasn’t always easy but I learned a lot about English and teaching. And the kids were oh-so-cute!

Here is the final chapter of my French kids say the darnedest things post!

*As in previous posts, dialogue in Italics was originally in French

It was funny because my students wore a lot of clothes with American or British flags on them and English words that I knew that they didn’t understand. Teachers told me that they wore them more often on days when I came in to teach because they wanted to show off their English cred.
One day a girl wore a pink sweatshirt that said America and Minnesota (my home state) on it. I was super excited, ‘Wow! You have been to Minnesota before?!?!‘ Apparently not-she looked at me like I was crazy.

One day with a more advanced student we drilled irregular past tense. So I said verbs and my student would quickly comeback at me with the answer, but the first things that came into his head weren’t always the right ones.
‘Go’ – ‘went’
‘Sleep’- ‘slept’
‘Bring’- ‘brought’
So far so good, but then it turned into a word association game (what is the first word that comes in to you mind when you hear…)
‘Feed’ – ‘food’
‘Think’ – ‘thank’
‘Ride’ – ‘read’
‘Want’ – ‘went’
‘See’- ‘ya later!’
And then later we went over opposites and I asked, ‘What is the opposite of weak?’ ‘Weekend!’

After New Years I taught my classes how to say ‘Happy New Years!’ However, because the RS combo is hard for them it sounded a lot like ‘Happy New You!!!’, which was funny because then I could pretend that everyone had noticed the haircut I got over break:)

In some of my younger classes, we never got around to doing an official lesson on classroom instructions. However, some especially naughty six-year-olds picked up on important ones early because I was always reprimanding them in English. For example, they would often mimic me, ‘Be quiet!!’, and put fingers up to their lips. It could be annoying when I was trying to get the class to be quiet and I would have one or two parakeets repeating after me. I would have to stare them down and be like, ‘That means you too kid!’
Sometimes I think ‘Be quiet, sit down, listen!!’ is what will stick with them the longest after I am gone!

I played Simon Says a lot with the kids to work on classroom materials and instructions. After they understood the vocab pretty well I would choose kids to come up and give the instructions. They could either say Simon Says….. or try to trick their classmates by just saying the instructions.
One time a kid forgot to say ‘Simon Says’, and was really confused as to why nobody was carrying out the action. He was so distressed and confused that was cute. He really thought that no one understood him.

When I did lessons about food and likes and dislikes I used this awesome song.

It is quite silly because it introduces two different foods and then mixes them and asks if you like the disgusting combo. There were always a few silly kids in the class (usually boys) who liked to insist that they loved the disgusting combos like donut juice or popcorn pizza.
‘Do you like tomato pancakes?’
‘Yes I do!!’

One day with seven-year-olds we were working with the book Brown Bear and the kids were having trouble remembering the word ‘Duck’. The teacher tried to help them, ‘You guys know Donald Duck, right?’
The kids were confused. ‘Who? Donald Trump?
No the other Donald! You don’t know Donald Duck?’

In one class when we learned body parts I described a monster for them to draw.
‘The monster has a rectangular body, three legs, and six feet.’
The children were so confused. They all protested, ‘But he only has three legs!!!! It isn’t possible to have six feet!!
I was taken aback by their squareness. ‘Seriously kids, use your imagination- it’s a monster!!

This quote is from one of my adult students. We were talking about life expectancy and things that can shorten life expectancy, like obesity. I asked her, ‘Why do you think are some reasons that obesity rates are higher in rural areas than in urban ones?’ She said, ‘I think they eat more because they are bored’, I laughed and asked, ‘Really?’ She was dead serious, ‘Yeah, I mean, I eat when I am bored.’

One day with an eight-year-old class I went through and asked everyone questions on their favorite things. ‘What is your favorite number?’ What is your favorite food?’ ‘What is your favorite color?’ When I asked one kid, ‘What is your favorite animal?’ He replied excitedly, ‘My favorite animal is a hot dog!!’

On my last day of classes in the schools a lot of students gave me drawings. When one eight-year-old handed me his drawing he said proudly, ‘and it even has my address on the back!’ …okkk. The whole class laughed, this kid is a bit out in left field in general…

Here are some of my favorite drawings I have received.

My favorite 6 year old class made this for me. Everyone drew something. It says ‘Thank you’ over and over


This one is so sad! I felt guilty for leaving when I saw this one!


I got a lot of British references on the drawings, even though I have talked to all of the classes about American culture.


This says, ‘I love the Statue of Liberty,’ but the kid drew Big Ben. 
‘Merica!! This kid understands whats up!


A lot of kids misspelled my name like Herine or Erine, but I get that all the time here!


This one says, ‘Thank you Erin for teaching us many things. Thanks to you we learned many songs and also words. Thank you very much.’

English is Weird Reprise

I can’t believe that I left out one of the weirdest things about English in my English is Weird post! So here is a little addition.

Phrasal verbs!!

Did you know that in English we have these things called phrasal verbs? Phrasal verbs are made when you take a normal verb, add a small word behind it, and BAM!, it takes on a whole different meaning. These are super hard for English learners; even advanced students hit a wall with them. Also they can’t avoid phrasal verbs because they are so common. Sometimes the thesaurus equivalent sounds too formal when used in everyday speech.

Here are some examples with get:

Get along (with) To be on good terms; work well:  It’s important to get along with your mother in law.
Get at To imply: What are you getting at? Do you think it’s my fault?
Get out of To avoid doing something: Brian’s trying to get out of working tomorrow.
Get over To recover from (illness, disappointment): Has she gotten over her cold yet?
Get rid of To eliminate: Please get rid of your attitude. It’s bringing everyone else down!


And then there are many phrasal verbs with more than one meaning…




Those poor English learners!!

English is Weird

This post is all about things I didn’t realize about my mother tongue until I started teaching it as a second language.

English is actually really weird. Sometimes I feel like I need to apologize to my students for how strange English is, almost like she is a crazy old great aunt.
‘I am sorry, I don’t know why she does that. You’ll just have to get used to it, because she isn’t changing!’

1. -ED Magic

When you add ed to make a verb past tense it can make three different sounds:
Looked and laughed sound like they end with a t.
Peeled and honored sound like they end with a d, but the e isn’t pronounced.
Added and exited actually sound like they end in ed.
Many of my students want to say ‘I look-ed at her!’

2. Prepositions

Prepositions are basically assigned randomly. They may make sense to you when you read them but that is because you are brainwashed:)

On a bus
In a car
At school
On the playground
On the weekend (at the weekend if you are British-weirdos!)
In an hour
On Friday
In the afternoon
At night
Travel to
Arrive at the restaurant
Arrive in France


3. To do or to make, that is the question! 

Make vs do is not not easy!

In French they only have one word which encompasses make and do: faire. So even asking them to split up faire into two different concepts in their minds is difficult. My students always mess this up.

Normally make is for producing, constructing, creating or building something new.

Do is for tasks and jobs.

But there are so many expressions that don’t follow these simple rules, especially with make

you do the dishes but you make the bed
make money
make friends
do exercises
make up your mind
make a face
make a bet
make an escape
make a decision

If you want to check it out on this grammar website it is actually uber confusing:



4. Conditionals

When making one type of conditional sentence, you use simple past tense for the if clause.

If I won a million dollars, I would buy a house.
If I was president, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
If all the zoo animals escaped, there would be chaos.

This is hard for English learners to wrap their heads around because why would you use the past tense to talk about something that has not happened and probably never will?

4. Spelling

Some words have random silent letters that I never noticed before. I only realize they are silent when my students mess up the words as they are reading aloud.


Ocean… Why is it spelled like that and pronounced like oshun?

The gh combo can make the f sound, as in tough, or it can be silent as in through.

There are the double oo’s and the craziness that is ou.

Blood and flood
Food and mood

None of these ou’s makes the same sounds

thought, through, thorough, tough
My students generally stumble when reading those words. Sometimes it isn’t even close at all!


5. Infinitives and gerunds

Infinitives and gerunds after other verbs- really confusing.

Just a review, (hang with me here) infinitives are to +verb as in to go, to play, to work, to live.

Gerunds are verb +ing as in going, playing, working, living.

-For some verbs you can follow with both a gerund or infinitive but it changes the meaning of the sentence.

Ann remembered bringing her wallet to the beach
Ann remembered to bring her wallet to the beach.

He stopped smoking.
He stopped to smoke. (As in he stopped what he was doing and took a smoke break)

Not the same thing!!

-For some verbs you can follow with both a gerund or infinitive and it doesn’t really change the meaning of the sentence.

I like to play basketball.
I like playing basketball.

-There are many verbs that can only be followed by a gerund or infinitive and they are mostly assigned randomly.


Avoid: He avoided going to school. (He avoided to go to school)
Imagine: Helen imagines working there one day. (Helen imagines to work there one day)


Agree: James agreed to lower the price (James agreed lowering the price)
Decide: We decided to stay home during the holidays. (We decided staying home during the holidays)

Imagine learning English as a second language and coming across this fun brain twister. The right answer for the gerund vs infinitive rule seems obvious to us but it is actually super hard!

6. Live and read
Then there are read and live which can be pronounced two different ways depending on the context.
I live in boulogne-Billancourt
This broadcast is being brought to you live from New York!
Have you read this book?
Read this book!

7. The THE enigma

There are some many different rules!! This little tidbit is just talking about proper names.

You wouldn’t say, ‘At the Panama beach on Pacific coast in the California, we could dip our toes in Pacific ocean while looking at sun.’ *Cringe!*

Rather you would say, ‘At Panama beach on the Pacific Coast in California, we could dip our toes into the Pacific ocean while looking at the sun.’

Use THE with the names of:

collections of lakes (such as the Great Lakes)
mountain chains
references on the globe (such as the Equator, the North Pole)
geographic regions (such as the Northwest, the Middle East)
bridges (except Tower Bridge)
the Sun, the Moon
extraordinary works of art or architecture (such as the Mona Lisa, the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal)

But do not use THE with:

individual lakes
individual islands
individual mountains (except the Matterhorn)
canyons (except the Grand Canyon)
people’s first names
streets (except the High Street)
public squares
HOWEVER: There are additional exceptions to some of the above categories. For example, THE is often used in the pattern “the … of …”.


The University of Colorado
The Temple of Ranakpur
The Cathedral of Siena

This is just a small exert taken from a large article on when and when not to use the/a/an (

8. Adjective order

And finally, there is this!


The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth


And we can read this sign the wrong way because of this rule:)

At the end of the day, it is amazing to think about how we native speakers internalize all of these rules and use them effortlessly and without thinking.

Let us observe a moment of silence for the poor souls who are trying to learn our language…

French Kids Say the Darnedest Things Round 4

You asked for it and here it is! Another edition of funny quotes from my students!!

I renewed my contract with TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) again for this year with the same district and same three schools as last year. I have most of the same teachers and a few new ones as well. For the most part my classes are shorter so I have more. For the young kids it is mostly a half an hour and for the older ones it is 45 min instead of one hour; I prefer this because when lessons are too long it is hard to keep them motivated and attentive! The kids are adorable, as usual. This year half of my students are the same as last year, which is great because there is some continuity. 

My French is much better than it was when I started the program last year but this year I am really trying to speak absolutely no French at all to the kids, except if we talk about culture. It’s an adventure to be sure. 

** Quotations in Italics were spoken in French

When I went back to my schools for the first time, a seven year old with the biggest doe eyes raised his hand, ‘You left before the end of the school year last year. You aren’t going to do that again, are you?’ And I told him, ‘I am sorry but my contract doesn’t last the whole school year, I can’t stay all the way until July.’ Then he asked me, ‘And next year, are you going to leave early too?’ He melted my heart!  The kid thought I was a fixture of his school because last year was his first there. But there isn’t going to be a next year. Even if I wasn’t planning on going grad school next fall, one can only do the program for 2 years max.  

In another class when I visited for the first time a six-year-old girl raised her hand and said, ‘Sometimes I speak English with my sister…even though I don’t speak English.’ ???? A little while later she started singing. The teacher asked, ‘What are you singing?’
A song in English.’
Well then sing a little louder so we can all hear.’
The song was to the tune of the abc song.  I listened super hard to try to make out the words. The teacher laughed and asked me, ‘That doesn’t mean anything does it?…’
Nope, not at all!’

I talked about Halloween in a lot of my classes. We went over some fun vocab like ghost and witch and pumpkin. For the 8-year-olds I found a small text online in French explaining Halloween origins, including the legend of miserly, selfish Jack, who had even gone so far as to trick the devil so he was doomed to wander forever with his lantern between heaven and hell.
A girl in the back raised her hand, ‘What is hell?’

For some vocabulary, the kids have a reference because of English words, brands, and characters that the French have borrowed, like ‘snow’board, Minny’mouse’, and angry birds.  However they frenchify the pronunciation a bit. Because of Spider-Man and Batman, spider and bat are easy words for them to remember, although they say ‘speeder’. It drives me nuts.
‘It’s Spiiiiider, children, spiiider! Now repeat!’
‘No! Spider!’

One kid did this on this review crossword puzzle. He was so proud of himself!!

Some kids are SO EXCITED to answer questions and participate- I love it! Some always keep their hand up even after they have answered a question such as ‘What’s your name’, because they want to answer it again. I ask, ‘Who hasn’t answered yet?’ And they wave their hands even more. I give them a look and say, ‘I know you have already answered!’ They smile guiltily but keep their hands raised. 

One day we were playing a ‘point to’ game where I would call kids up to the board and tell them a vocab word, like cat. When they would point to the right picture I would say ‘cat’ and have the class repeat. One time I forgot to do the repeat part and started to move on to the next word and one kid yelled out the first word all by himself. I had deprived him of that simple joy of repeating a vocab word, you know?

Eating with the teachers is hilarious because they love to gossip about their kids.

One day, two of the CP (1st grade) teachers were complaining, ‘This year, one of the kids doesn’t even know his days of the week…’ They used expressions like ‘They were rocked too close to the wall’ or Il a été fini au pipi’ This one is quite vulgar (hilarious but vulgar) so I won’t spell it out.

Also, two of the teachers confessed to me that they speak in English with their husbands when they don’t want their kids to understand what they are saying. Then one of them asked me wide-eyed as if she had just realized something mind-blowing, ‘What language do you speak when you don’t want the children to understand?’

It is interesting to see how the kids interact with each other during lessons. In the beginning in the seven-year-old class we learned, ‘Hello what’s your name?’ and ‘My name is ____’. For most of the kids it was a review. There was one little boy who had moved from another school and hadn’t learned English before. The first lesson he didn’t want to participate at all. He just crossed his arms and shook his head mutely. The other kids tried to encourage him, including this adorable, painfully shy girl. She told him, ‘I was scared at first too, but even I did it! Look at me now!’ She is the best, I love it when she volunteers to speak.

It is easy to see the different levels of maturity. In the six-year-old classes especially there are a lot of kids who giggle uncontrollably when I play them a song for the first time. It is hilarious because the few mature ones get pissed off at this and hiss at everyone, ‘Stop laughing, IT’S NOT FUNNY!’ The looks on their faces are a mixture of rage and exasperation.  I can tell that they are thinking, ‘I am surrounded by idiots.’ 

When drilling vocab with kids right after I teach them new vocab, kids often say mushy nonsense words. Sometimes they actually say a real English word by accident, just not the right one! I mimed ‘I’m tired’ and a girl raised her hand and answered ‘I’m dead!’ The teacher and I laughed, ‘Close, but not quite kid!’ 

One of my students is bilingual- his mother is Canadian. As I was leaving the lesson one day I heard him sing, ‘She was drinking…’ That stopped me in my tracks.
‘What are you singing???’
He smiled, ‘Grandma got run over by a reindeer! I am singing it for my American school.’ And he started singing, ‘She was drinking too much eggnog…’
I joined in because hey, that is a great song:)

In one of my classes as we talked about thanksgiving, the teacher gave them a short text in French to read. At the end it says that every year, the American president chooses one turkey to pardon and it lives out its days on a farm, never to be eaten. The word pardon in French is gracie, which sounds a little like their word for fat, gras. When she asked them, ‘what does that mean?’, they could not get the word ‘fat’ out of their heads. 
The president puts fat into the sauce.’

No, it has nothing to do with fat.’

The president takes the fat out of the sauce?’

The president puts the fat into the turkey?’

No, no, no!’

Kids are like that though! Once you get an idea into their head they can’t let it go!

And last but not least-One day I asked the kids if they were going to dress up for Halloween and if so what they were going to be. Kids started volunteering their costumes,
A ghost!
A princess
Kylo Ren!
A vampire
another ‘Kylo Ren!
Then a kid raised his hand, ‘I am going to be Darth Vader!!
One of the Kylo Rens shot back at him, ‘You can’t be Darth Vader, he is dead!

I had to step in, ‘Ok children, Calm yourselves!’

Embarrassing things I have said in French Round 2

Once again I lay out some of my funniest French mistakes for your reading pleasure. Check out my first blog post about this for more anecdotes.

The ‘Franglais’ is getting out of control at our apartment! Cyril has trouble keeping English and French straight when he talks to me. When he speaks French he sometimes throws in random English words. When he does this I have to stop him to ask, ‘Can you really use that word in French??’ They do borrow a lot of our words, so I can’t dismiss every English word he uses as wrong.
And now French is creeping into his English. Recently Cyril said jokingly, ‘I’m never going to douche again!’ He meant shower. (se doucher=to shower)
So then I get confused and slip up too. One time I said, ‘On va être la bientôt-ish‘, a translation of ‘we are going to be there soon-ish’, but you can’t add ish to the end of a french word.

Smell and feel are the same verb in French. This provides ample opportunities for me to make a fool of myself. One time Cyril and I were talking about a hypothetical ethical situation and I said, ‘I would smell bad if I did that!‘, I meant, ‘I would feel bad if I did that!

7 months after I started living here I realized there is a difference between ‘province‘ the word that Parisians use to designate everywhere in France outside of the Paris region, and ‘Provence‘ a specific region in the south of France famous for growing lavender. Before I knew the difference I thought it was weird that Parisians thought cities like Strasbourg were in the Provence region- stupid Parisians! Even so, I find the fact that there is a word to designate everything outside of Paris very telling about the Parisian pysche…

For a long time I also didn’t realize there was a difference between ‘baignoire‘, the word for bathtub, and ‘bagnole‘, a slang word for car. I thought it was strange that everyone referred to their cars as tubs but I never really questioned it.
One day at Cyril’s aunt’s house I was confused by the bathroom set-up. I asked Cyril, ‘Am I supposed to shower in the car?‘ He was utterly confused.
Now I know the difference!

For my French lessons I once wrote a whole essay about why we shouldn’t do away with grades at school when the prompt was actually about whether or not we should ban brand clothes at school. *face palm* (Marques vs notes).

Once at Cyril’s mom’s house, I was helping his mom put away everything after a long meal. I took a bottle of rum and told her I would put it in the ‘cabinet‘. She laughed hard and explained that in France a cabinet is either a small bathroom or another word for an office, as in ‘cabinet medical‘ (doctor’s office). So basically I sounded like an alcoholic. (Let me just put the bottle of rum in the bathroom!!)

We were over at a friend’s new apartment and he was overly proud of his new kitchen organization gadgets. I made fun of him by saying, ‘il est trop domestique!’ A direct translation of ‘he is so domestic!’ Except in French ‘domestic’ is used to talk about animals that are house pets.

When Cyril and I were back in the US last month, we saw some French friends in St. Louis and visited the Missouri botanical gardens together, where I told them ‘It is too hot for Japanese Arabs here!
I meant Japanese maples… (Arabes vs érables)
Then two minutes later I was telling them about how my friend does ‘management‘ at the post office. (At least that is what I meant.) Our pregnant friend laughed and pointed to her belly, ‘I’m doing ‘gestation’, do you mean ‘gestion’?’

Sometimes my mistakes make me seem sassier than I am. Recently Cyril asked me where the iPhone charger was. I told him, ‘It’s somewhere on Earth!‘ I meant to say, ‘It’s somewhere on the floor!‘ (sur terre vs par terre) Those stupid prepositions get me every time!

And last but not least!
Once I tried a candy at a market and Cyril asked me if I liked it. ‘I don’t know, it kinda tastes like doctor!
I meant to say medicine of course:) Doctor=médecin Medicine=médicament

(photo credit:Amy Rohrer)

Buon Giorno Italia!

Last weekend I visited my brother Brett in Italy, where he is spending a few weeks working and traveling around. After taking 2 and a half years of Italian classes he finally gets to try out his skills!

I joined him in Alonte, a small town an hour west of Venice. He is staying with Chiara and Paolo and helping them with their vineyard, La Pria, and their horses. Here is the link to their website

I took two and a half years of Italian classes and even studied in Florence for a semester. But that was two years ago and I haven’t had much opportunity to practice since. Everybody I talked to in Alonte was patient with me and my Italian skills, even though a lot of what came out of my mouth the first day was French! The extent of my regression was clear, but I could also tell that if I were ever to spend an extended amount of time in Italy I would be able to get it back. By the end of the third night I was doing pretty good! Remembering a language is much easier than learning it for the first time.

I love French, but I have missed Italian. Even though they are both Romance languages, they are fundamentally different in character and intonation. French is sophisticated and sexy in a smooth way. Italian is passionate and animated to the point of being over the top. I also adore the way they use their hands when they speak. There is a joke that goes, ‘How do you make an Italian shut up?’ ‘You tie his hands behind his back!’

But I couldn’t choose between them, their cultures, or their food. I just love them both!

I think the rivalry between them is hilarious. Cyril is not fond of Italians. As I was leaving he jokingly asked me not to go. ‘Their wine isn’t even good!’
The Italians in Alonte told me things like, ‘But seriously, between us and France, it isn’t even a contest, we have the best food.’ or ‘France is beautiful, yes, but the people are not very friendly at all!’

One of my old Italian teachers explained the animosity like this, ‘It all boils down to the fact that they are competing to be the best at the same things: wine, food, and soccer, even the reputation for being the best lovers.’

Brett is thriving there. He has the right kind of temperament for language learning because he is super outgoing. Brett constantly jokes around with Paolo and the farm hands. He also has a notebook with pages and pages of new vocabulary that he has learned since he got there. It is an amusing mixture of normal vocabulary, farming terminology, regional slang, and swear words.

Brett and Paolo picked me up at the train station on Thursday and drove me to the pizzeria in town for an aperitivo with Samuele, the man who held the guinness world record for the longest pizza for a year (1595 meters, 5243 feet). Someone from Napoli broke it the day before I arrived in Italy. He is also very proud of his prize of second best pizza in the world. Unfortunately I never actually got to try it. A few days before I came, Brett was initiated into cult of Neapolitan pizza when he spent time in the pizzeria’s kitchen.


After the aperativo we went to a neighborhood restaurant for lunch with some of the farmhands. It was a classic Italian style meal, with a first course of pasta and second course of meat or fish. Brett is already famous here for how much he can eat, and like proper Italians they are basically force feeding him. ‘What do you mean you don’t want a second steak? Mania, mania, mania!’ (Eat eat eat! in the regional dialect) Brett is going to be a heavyweight by the time he leaves!

In the afternoon it rained, so we chilled in the farm house and talked to farmhands and whoever happened to pop in. Paolo and Chiara have a business boarding horses and giving horse riding lessons, so people are always dropping by. I got the impression that in this region western riding is very popular, along with the whole culture that comes with it: country line dancing, American and confederate flags, flashy belts, and cowboy boots. They all dream of the famous wide open spaces of the western United States. Some of these horse aficionados have taken trips to the southwest or Wyoming to tour ranches and ride horses.
It is a facet of Italian culture that I never encountered in Florence!

At night Brett and I ate dinner with Paolo and Chiara and their son Giulio. Again, there was too much food!

Friday I helped Brett and two farmhands, Giovanni and Denis, prune the vines. I figured I shouldn’t freeload on Chiara and Paolo’s hospitality. I have missed working with and being around plants since I have lived in Paris.


The landscape there is similar to Tuscany with its rolling hills and vineyards. At this time of the year poppies (Papaver rhoeas), common agricultural weeds, are in full bloom in fields and ditches.


Saturday Brett and I took the train into Venice to explore and get lost in the winding streets. I adore Venice; for me it is the most beautiful city in the world.


The view from San Marco Campanile



I am sorry, I can’t help myself, I have to throw in pictures of beautiful flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that I spotted there!


Brett wanted so badly to speak Italian to people, but it isn’t easy in a place as touristy as Venice. Most people hear the accent and switch right away to English which is frustrating. However, we did find some nice Italians to humor us in little shops.

Carnivale, mad max style

That night back in Alonte, Chiara and Paolo hosted a huge steak grill out with their riding friends.

They took out wine from their cellar as well as homemade grappa and rosolio alcohols. Grappa is made from the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from the winemaking process, and rosolio is made from rose petals. It was the first time I had ever heard of or tried rosolio- it is so good!
We ate and drank and talked until one in the morning, a lovely end to my time in Italy.