I know it’s almost the last day of the month and that I’m supposed to be talking about the Artist of the Month, but I experienced something today that cannot wait (we will talk about Zaz tomorrow). I started my internship today at a local high school, called Jules Guesde, as a student teacher assistant for English classes. High school here, in general, is REALLY different than what I’m used to back in the states, and there are a few things worth noting. Well, actually, a lot.
I really like this opportunity because it puts me in a real-world situation where I can interact with actual French people instead of just the people in my American classes all day. Not only that, but these kids are my age, which is strange. This means they talk pretty fast, and because they know you’re American, they’re sympathetic towards your French.
That’s not what I initially thought. I was really worried, actually, because I thought they would make fun of my American accent since it’s incredibly strong. Instead, however, they smiled at me with curiosity and asked me tons of questions. Some of them were incredibly blunt and a little inappropriate if they were in the United States, but I could see their intentions, which luckily enough I tried to answer. Some of the comments I got were really sweet, and even though I was a foreigner, French people may be nicer than Americans, despite how direct and blunt their statements are:
“You’re 18 years old? I’m older than you! You look like you’re 25.”
“I like your accent. You sound like an actress in a movie, which is really cool.”
“I know this is a personal question, but what’s your race?”
“Do you like Kylie Jenner?”
“How about Lil Wayne? Do you listen to Lil Wayne? Why not?”
“You watch Pretty Little Liars? You look like Emily.”
“What are your qualities?” <- my response: that’s a really weird question…
“Do you like us yet?”
“Are baseball and football the same thing?”
“What? You don’t have a boyfriend at home? How about here? Do you like French boys?”
“Have you been to California? Do you know any famous people?”
“I heard you have to pay for college in America. Does that mean you’re rich?”
Just lots of student debt, my friend. The funniest part is that you would think I’m older than them, but I’m not. As a matter of fact, some of them were older than me, in their early 20s or so. In France, in order to graduate, you have to pass a test called the bac. The test helps you get into college, which is free here. However, if you fail the bac, you have to retake the classes and repeat a whole year of high school. I guess that’s the price for having a free college education.
And the bac is incredibly hard. Think of it as the SAT or ACT we have to take junior year, but about 10 times harder. Each bac has a different subject, and these kids spend years preparing for it. And it’s not easy. I worked, obviously, with the English bac. After reading the prompt, even I was a little appalled at the assignment. Not only do they have to write essays and read passages, but they have to role play in both informal and formal settings, which is especially hard considering that I didn’t learn the difference between the two in the English language until I was in the 8th grade.
To be honest, I think I may be the best at English in the classroom. “Well, duh, Chelsea. You’re American.” Well, yeah, but I expected the teacher I’m working with to be pretty good (haha no). She can speak pretty fast to me in English, but she’s definitely not a native. A lot of the things she says is very formal and she doesn’t get some of the lingo I use. I had to work with the bac preparation teacher, also, who spoke very minimal English. Yay me because I could practice my French then!
School structure is also very different. When I first arrived, I heard the first few notes to “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. At first, I thought it was just some kids’ speakers blasting the song. Turns out that the song is the bell that tells people to change classes, which made me laugh really hard. Not only that but I was constantly moving, because teachers don’t have classrooms. The high school resembles more of the university life in the states, where teachers just go to classrooms and meet their students there. Really strange, and I’m not sure if I like it, because it forces the teachers to have to log in and out of computers, using up class time instead of using that time to teach.
Whatever: everyone’s entitled to their opinions. These kids are a riot and really make me laugh with their many questions. I was caught off guard a lot of the time, and you can really see that they want to learn. When a French guy came to my French class back in the states, I would just sit quietly and mute. These kids loved to practice their English on me, and when I spoke to them in French, they corrected me too! That made me so happy, because they were so nice about it.
That’s the other thing: I’m so used to translating from English to French. For them, it’s the opposite, obviously, but it’s strange to hear at first. If the teacher writes something on the board in English, I can just read it straight across without translation. But after each phrase, the teacher asks the students to translate to French so they can understand, which is inverse of the way I learned it. We didn’t do much grammar today, but I learned tons of vocab words when kids were just associating the French word with the English word.
And I think this is going to help a lot. I’m really psyched to hang out with these kids. It’s hard to explain some instructions because if they don’t understand, I have to switch to French so they do. Even then, I’m sure some of my sentences are bad. But I can practice and it forces me to switch back and forth between the two languages, which may be helping me break down the language barrier.