Article by Clare Crawford | 1 August 2020
I never expected to be speaking another language other than English, much less working in one. In fact, at the age of 40, I had pretty much resigned myself to being monolingual. My French teacher in secondary school had given up trying to teach us the past tense when I was 15: I have a distinct memory of inventing conjugations in the final year exam. Did you know that you could add -eck to the third person singular form of the passé composé in French and still get a mark for effort?
I fell in love
Learning a second language seemed to be beyond my scope but then I met a French man and while talking to him in English, French words kept popping into my mind. My hippocampus was definitely keen to prove itself! What I was delighted to discover was that during all that time between school and this Frenchman, I had developed a much greater understanding of how my native language worked. With the help of my very patient amoureux, I started to learn French again, this time making links between the two languages, not just in terms of vocabulary but in terms of sentence structure, shared and different sounds … Well, as fellow Neurolanguage Coaches, you know how this works!
I moved to France in 2009, armed with a CELTA qualification and the energy that being in love can bring. I found work very quickly as a freelancer, working in a wide variety of companies in the northeast of France.
I didn’t speak much French.
My own French stayed basic for quite a long time because, apart from the phrases used in shops or at company reception desks, I didn’t really use French that often. That changed when I got a permanent job in one of the training companies as a training consultant. I remember the frustration of being introduced to someone and hearing a colleague say in French, “She doesn’t really speak French.” No, I didn’t then, but I understood that comment! Another colleague mistook my close attention when she spoke as deep interest rather than just basic decoding, which made her speak even faster and for even longer than she did with anyone else. She’d stand in front of my desk and tell me long, involved stories, while I struggled desperately to find an anchor in the tsunami of words. However, nothing is ever really wasted. Those embarrassing experiences or conversely, the triumph that came each time I managed to use a formulation like a native, have helped me enormously when working with non-native speakers struggling with English.
The Journey towards fluency
I know that it took a long time for me to feel that I was being myself in French, but that was the spur to keep learning and keep searching for phrases to articulate what I saw and heard and felt. I’ve also been lucky to have met a lot of really patient people who have listened and responded kindly. It’s these developing bonds that make the long journey towards fluency rewarding.
Nevertheless, I still have all sorts of complexes about speaking in French. I’ve experienced first-hand the long slow process or removing fossilised errors. A couple of years ago, I asked my long-suffering partner what pronunciation errors I made. He pointed out one really basic error on a high-frequency word and it took about 6 months to pronounce it more correctly (I won’t say perfectly) without the accompanying restarts and grunts of frustration.
Time to step out of my comfort zone.
So, when Rachel asked me if I would consider giving the Language Coaching certification in French, it’s safe to say that my first response was mild to moderate panic. But then I thought of all my fellow NL coaches who had followed the training in their second, third or fourth languages. It was time to step outside my own comfort zone.
My first French group was the “Groupe de Paris” in February this year and I really was spoiled with all six coaches to be. I fall in love with Paris every time I visit but these coaches helped me fall a little more in love with the French language. Before I came to Neurolanguage Coaching, I’d met quite a few teachers of French who seemed to have the same approach to French language teaching as the plumber who arrives to look at your hot water heater, he sucks air through his teeth and mutters about the lack of owner care and the complexity and cost of the job. But I had Catherine, Ingrid and Christine to guide me through the complexities, David to show me yet more ways to make links between English and French and Nuria and Shahrazad as role-models in appropriating the language as their own.
We were finishing the course online just as lockdown was declared and I have been deeply impressed that the “Groupe de Paris” used the time so effectively to complete their certifications. As we left each other in Paris in February, we said we would meet up to celebrate, little thinking it would be an online celebration and, personally, that it would happen so quickly.
As I write, I ‘m getting ready to take my third certification group in French.The teachers who find their way to Neurolanguage Coaching continue to amaze and delight me and to reconcile me with my hard-won second language. And yet, I think the “Groupe de Paris” will keep always have a special place in my heart.