Filling in the Gaps: Teaching English in France 1

Emma Verrill, who is currently teaching English in France, shares her guest viewpoint in this second post of a three-part series on the MIUSA Blog. Click here if you missed her first post, “A la troisieme, c’est la bonne!”

I consider myself lucky to be teaching high school in France. My students are attentive, respectful, and determined to learn new things from “the American,” and I rarely have issues with behavior. My biggest challenge is “the gap”: where my level of French stops and their level of English begins. This language gap accounts for miscommunication and inability to be firm with the students at times. When I mispronounce or mix up words, how can I blame them for the snickers and giggles that are sure to keep them paying attention? This is not constant nor does it inhibit my teaching ability, but it creates a mutual vulnerability that results in a greater respect between me and my students.

This is a learning experience for everyone. I am not a certified teacher and the only instruction I have received is from trial and error. Talking at them doesn’t work and giving long-winded explanations doesn’t work either – making activities as interactive as possible is the key.

One of my favorite hands-on classes from the first semester of my teaching assistantship, focused on “Intouchables,” a film which has become a sensation in France. It is based on the true story of a paralyzed widow who hires a driver/caretaker from the outskirts of Paris. The film, inspired by a true story, follows their relationship and what they learn from one another.

My 15-year-old students saw the film as a part of their civics class and their head teacher arranged for a follow up English project where myself and another disabled person who is a peer, met with small groups to provide the opportunity to ask us questions. I loved being able to use my experiences to help the students understand the limitations a person with a disability encounters as well as encouraging them to think thoroughly about the opportunities that a disability creates, such as this hands-on lesson that may have not happened or been as rich otherwise.

The students were respectful, engaged, and intent on gathering as much information as they could. In a way, the mutual vulnerability from the language gaps helped us be more open to filling in the cultural gaps. The biggest challenge also creates the greatest rewards.

Emma with large group of students

Say "Fromage!" Emma and her students gather for a group photo.