After teaching English for three years in Spain (one in Castilla-La Mancha, one in Asturias, and another in Galicia), my friend Ryan is now working in Royan, France as an English Assistant. It seemed only natural that he would end up there; he speaks fluent German, Spanish, and French and is one of the most adventurous travelers I know (he is always bouncing around Europe and making me jealous with his updates from places like Latvia, Serbia, Slovakia, and Turkey)! Due to his experience in Spain, I was especially curious to see how Ryan viewed life in a French classroom.
Ryan in Bellver de Cerdanya, Spain
Ryan in Royan–it has a nice ring to it! How did you decide to teach English in France? How long will you be there?
I decided to teach English in France because I wanted a new challenge. I wanted to learn another language, and the best way to do that is to go to a different country. I had been teaching English in Spain for three years and had developed a high level of fluency in Spanish. One of my life goals is to learn as many languages as fluently as possible and in France I now have the possibility of learning another!
If all goes well, I should be here until September 2015. That means I will have lived in France for two years.
Fingers crossed! Before you taught English in France, you taught English for several years in Spain. How do the two countries compare, educationally?
In my opinion, at least for school age students, Spanish students speak English a lot better than French children the same age. I have been surprised at the level that French kids have or don’t have. That being said, French students study hard, do their homework and are more respectful than their Spanish counterparts. In my first lesson, I was really surprised that the students waited for me to give them permission to sit down at the beginning of the day! Also, French students never call me by my name like Spanish students did. In fact, they often call me “Monsieur,” which I find to be really strange. That being said I really enjoy teaching both Spanish and French students.
A church in Oviedo, Spain
When I think of France and language teaching, I mainly think about how protective they are of their native language. What is the environment like for teaching foreign languages—is it welcoming, hostile…?
For the most part, I feel that young people are quite eager to learn English and to develop a good command of the language. They are really interested in the movies, culture and especially the music. I have had several students request songs and artists so they can get a better understanding of songs and slang in music.
On the other hand, I have felt resistance and a little resentment to learning English from a few of my adult students. Although they are by far in the minority, I have heard adults complain that it is not fair that they have to learn English, and I have even had a student tell me that she did not understand how English could be the global language because she felt that English lacks the precise vocabulary to express oneself exactly. Nevertheless, the majority of students, adults and children, are excited to learn English and are very welcoming and enthusiastic.
What is your city like? What were the most difficult cultural adjustments you encountered?
My city is relatively small, but it is located near the beach. Unfortunately, there is not much architecture of note because the city was completely destroyed in World War II. The most difficult cultural adjustment I have had to make is changing my schedule from the Spanish timetable back to a normal one. I have to eat earlier now and there is no siesta!
Exploring the Cathar castles, Aude Pays Cathare
In general, what did you do in your free time? Has it been easy to travel around?
In my free time, I ride my bike a lot. There are a lot of bike routes in the area and getting around by bike is a breeze. I also go out with some other Americans in town, and we often cook together. I have been reading a lot and am currently reading Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo. Other than that, I try to practice French when I can, and I also try to use Spanish as often as possible!
Travelling is quite easy. The TGV in France is quick and affordable, especially with the youth card. Unfortunately, most things leave and arrive in Paris, the epicenter of all things French, so it can sometimes be annoying to always have to go there.
Visiting Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
If you could import one French item or custom to the US, what would it be?
The one thing I would import from France to the USA is their standards and expectations when it comes to food. In the US we do not always have the same demands when we eat out. We tend to go for quantity over quality, but the French are just the opposite. Even the most basic of dishes are made with the best ingredients and eating in a restaurant here is quite the experience!
What things do you miss from Spain (or the US!) that you can’t find in France?
I miss Spain a lot! I really miss the food and the people. However, the thing I miss the most are the prices! France is quite expensive. Although I get paid more here in France, the taxes and cost of living are extremely high. Even going out for something like a caña [a small beer] can be quite expensive. I remember the first time I went out here and got the bill, I thought it was for all of us, but it turned out to be just for me!
I miss the USA as well. I really miss the wide, open spaces, and the food. Of course, I miss my friends and family. For some reason, they never make it to this side of the Atlantic!
What do you think Americans (or Westerners in general) should know about France that may not be portrayed in the news?
I think the biggest difference from what I expected was that French people are way more welcoming and nicer than they are portrayed in the media. The stereotype of the French being rude is false. They are always flattered when you try to speak French, and I have had different people that I did not know go out of their way to help me.
What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in teaching English in France?
Study French! The language is really the key. I know that is the case anywhere you go, but the French are really proud of their language and speaking it, or at least trying to, makes a huge positive impression on them. Also, prepare yourself for a lot of paperwork. The French have a lot of bureaucracy and getting things done can take forever!
And I thought bureaucracy in Spain was bad… Can you share a funny story about teaching English abroad?
French people, like Spaniards, have problems with pronunciation, especially vowel sounds. One day, I was eating lunch outside, and one of my students saw me outside. She yelled at me, “Have a good lunch! Enjoy your cock!” I was quite taken aback because I had no idea why she would say something like that, but then I realized that she was referring to my drink, a coke!
Where’s Waldo? In Paris, of course.
Haha! That’s a good one. Thanks for sharing your expertise and experience with us. Best of luck for another French year!