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Do you teach French even though it's not your mother tongue?

How to maintain or even improve your knowledge of French in everyday life

Alicia Logie
Canadian Association of Immersion Teachers


Have you just started teaching or been teaching for only a few years? Do you want to improve your French so you feel more comfortable in the classroom, but find courses expensive or hard to access? Do your young family or other concerns keep you from participating in summer programs?

Here are some tips for maintaining and even improving your knowledge of standard French:

DRIVING TIP – Do you spend a lot of time in your car every day? If so, listen to French programming on Radio-Canada. Your ear will become accustomed to hearing proper and often elegant French, and you will even get brief lessons on correct French from the "Capsules linguistiques" (short tips on language use). The host of these broadcasts corrects anglicisms and suggests interesting expressions to use in French (the Capsules are also available online after broadcasts).

ONLINE TIP – You can listen to two French pop music stations on your computer: Rouge fm and CKOI.

BONUS – When you hear about upcoming events in a Francophone community near you, tell your students! You can also discuss these communities' current concerns with your class.

EVERYDAY TIPS – Write your grocery list in French. Write household chore lists in French. Call your mother—in French! It's easy to inject a little French into everyday life!

TELEPHONE AND ATM TIPS – Do you have an answering machine or voicemail? Record a bilingual message (French first). You'll be surprised at how many people around you speak French well or are trying to revive their high school French. (The local pharmacist who found a card that I had forgotten left me a nice message in rudimentary French. How thoughtful!) And other people will simply be impressed by your efforts.

When you call somewhere and have to select a language (you know, "Press 1 for English, press 2 for French"), choose French! You will not only be practising your French, but also conveying the message that many clients want to be served in French. (Sometimes it's even faster because fewer people are on hold.)

Even at the ATM, choose French! You already know the buttons, and your eyes will see more French words every day!

CULTURAL TIP – French cultural activities abound in Canada. Start with your local cultural centre. Go see a play, take your kids to a festival, etc. Invite your French-speaking colleagues. You'll enjoy fun activities and find ideas for the classroom! For help, go to Francovoyageur.

As well, many movies are available in French; check out movie listings in newspapers or online. You can even get together with friends and buy tickets at group rates. These are just some examples of fun things to do that won't break the bank.

READING TIP – Reading is one of the most affordable ways to maintain your knowledge of French. You'll find all the books you want on the Internet, including used books for much less. You can easily order online at Archambault or Renaud-Bray. You can even start a small book club to discuss books with friends or colleagues—the perfect excuse to indulge in a glass of wine!

Don't limit yourself to novels if they're not your style: read magazines, articles and newspapers! Subscribe to your favourite publication, and you'll be motivated to read regularly. Everything is also available on the Internet. It's easy!

TIPS FOR FRIENDLY GET-TOGETHERS – Do you have friends who would also like to practise their French, or do you know any Francophones who speak better French than you? Why not make learning language fun? Organize friendly get-togethers in French in a pub or restaurant. Even better, go where you can be served in French. There are many good bistros and restaurants with French-speaking waiters.

MUSIC TIP – Do you have an iPod, a radio or a stereo system at home? It's easy to listen to French music anywhere, even while working on the computer. Tune in to CKOI (Montréal) and play the radio while you work! You don't know what's good or hot in French music? You don't know what you like? The CKOI site lists the latest French hits. Listen to an excerpt from a song to see if you like it, or go to the group's or singer's site to listen to other songs—or even buy recordings online!

DEVICE TIP – At home, you can select the language on devices such as cell phones, fax machines, scanners, VCRs and microwave ovens. I encourage you to change the language settings to French. Yes, it's a little difficult at first, but it becomes second nature after a while. And think about the vocabulary you'll learn!

ULTIMATE TIP – Save some money for family vacations in French: for example, go to Quebec or France, or one of those lovely little islands where French and sunshine go hand-in-hand. What a treat! And what a great way to reward yourself for the tough job of teaching a language that's not your mother tongue! Bravo!