Back to School in Paris


Back to School ‘ ! how these words are cheered by parents & feared by children in every part of the world. There is a mixture of emotions that blend with each, passing year. A mix that combines and compresses year after year. Some students find a love of returning back to their classrooms- where they can see their friends.Some find school to interupt their daily routine of fun- in – the –sun, and reading novels that are personnaly picked unstead of some requirement created years ago. Parents enjoy the returned freedom that takes the child out of the home, and hopefully into a safe & educational enviroment. The season is called ,“ Re Entrer “( re enter) as the French call it. Its such a huge event here, second only to Christmas in stores.I watched as parents picked out colorful backpacks, and notebooks for their children. I enjoy watching the children decide which pencil case to pick – the one with the Disney character ? or the one with a fancy car ? Such a big decision at this age – to be cool or practical ??

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The fall season in Paris, comes early to me.Leaves start to drop the middle of October here, instead of late November, back in Charleston. Since this city is equal to the same latitude as Quebec. The city is not filled with maple trees which are my favorite. Here the local trees turn yellow and brown. There is a cripsness in the air, that feels chilly in your lungs, but as you take a deep breath, you can feel the clean air filling you body. At the same time, there is a aftertaste of ice, that reminds you, soon, the dreaded winter will be here. Until then, I enjoy walking and hearing the crunching of leaves under my feet. How strange such a simple sound, brings you to another time and place. How it use to remind me , soon Halloween was coming – which is candy season to children, even in France.

Now I have new fears to visit me during this school season. The days of college exams & paper deadlines are behind me now. The new terror in my life is called “French school”. Don’t laugh, this is really a new experience for me.


I have had awful experiences with learing French here. I am under the belief that the real issue is the lack of understanding how to Teach French !! You would think – hey, “we are in Paris, they speak French – how can this be difficult ??” ha , read on !

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My first experience, was a “class”, that Nic signed me up for said “ French I” – it was a lie ..this teacher, did not have any sort of plan of action at all. She came into our classroom – never having any structure at all- and most of the people in this group already spoke French – and she corrected their grammer. As for me – I had zero educational background in french – so this was too advanced for me. There was no great cost loss – 10.00 a month. I stayed with this for a couple of months.


Next was WICE , which is a school – that rents room in buildings to teach. French 1 class- for 3 months – it was 325.00 and that did not include the 2 weeks off in Feb.! The teacher I liked, and I did feel she had structure to teach our class. But the class consisted of “wives”, whom had husbands in France, and these ladies often, came and went several times a year, back and forth to their own country & France. They had many more hours under their belts than I did; so again, this was too advanced for me . Why these women were in French 1, was strange to me, these ladies knew many verbs and how to speak passible French. Maybe they did not want to feel stupid, so they took a lower class to ensure their expensive prides would not get hurt. I finished the class- only to have the teacher tell me, that I needed a lower level, and for me to restart the TAXI textbook. I did not register again. I could not return, because, I had legal requirements that were now upon me. As a side note- WISE uses the same books as Alliance Francise- which is double the money! SO – in comparing the 2 schools – WICE is better for cost.


The worst was OFII( Office for Immigrants & Integration) class. This was a required class for my French Visa – so I thought. In the French brochure, it said, the class was FRENCH 1, was free (or part of the cost of my visa). All lies my friends!
The classmates started on the first day – speaking French to the teacher !! How is that first level 1 ?, I was required to attend a school, and learn French –per the French government rules, if I did not show proof of me attempting to learn French , I could be kicked out. Its that simple here – “ LEARN THE LANGUAGE OF THE LAND”. ( are you listening President & Congress ?)
Here is where the misunderstanding happened. The French give you all these papers with your application for a long term visa; and this class was listed in the papers – which made me think, I had to attend – THAT class. The OFII class is free with your payment of the visa application. So I though cool !! they will even help me learn French , for the upcoming DELF exam , that I must pass in order to be granted the long term visa . Yes you read right order to stay in france, you MUST pass a French exam which is written & oral . They are NOT joking ! they will kick you out if you fail to learn basic french , they gave me one year to learn French, and pass the exam.
BUT I had to quit the OFII class – why ?, again , every student already spoke French ..but that was all they could do . Most were unable to write French, and had limited reading skills..meaning they had no formal education. I attended this class 5 days a week, for 3 months, and learned NOTHING. The teacher used handouts everyday – and most of the time was spent in discussions of the handouts. No formal verb learning – No formal increase of knowledge. The purpose of the class, was to teach these people, how to take a formal exam.

One day for example – the class was moved into a room to see a movie “ Untouchables ?”, about a black man working for a white man who was paralyzed. There was no subtitles , and everyone was laughing at the same time – so they understood what was being said. I did not. I got a little upset – and packed up my things to leave; when the teacher tried to stop me – I said in my southern French ‘ I do not want to see a movie about homosexuals, this early in the morning- I am not in the mood’ .. Her face dropped – she did not know how to respond to me. All I saw were scenes that, took place in the white man’s bedroom ..what was I to think ?? I knew , it was not a gay movie – but I wanted to shock her, to force her,to see the movie through my eyes .. and it worked . she was shocked & did not know how to tell me, it was not a porn movie. I walked out of the school, with a smile on my face , for the first time in months ..and that was the beginning of the end for me and this OFII class. As time passed, I grew more & more impatient and more & more vocal. Not a good combination!

I realized this class , was for the uneducated people – the main objective was to prep the people , for the DELF exam, since they did not have formal training – taking a timed exam was a new experience for them..but not for me ! And this class was to practice how to take an exam , NOT FRENCH 1 as it was listed.I was very pissed that I wasted so much time with them , and not one school teacher, had the guts to say the was a prep class for the uneducated people. I departed this class ..expressing myself , about how they lied to me. Why would they lie to me ? simple – MONEY ! The French govt. pays the school, for every student enrolled. ( or should I say, I paid them)

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In order to get ready for my exam, I went back to my videos of FRENCH IN ACTION, and YOUTUBE. I also started a free French group to meet in a café, 2 days a week. I even found 2 teachers that would offer their time,in exchange for them to practice English. It was a good mix of people- I made copies of my lessons, and shared them with everyone. It ended up being a great way for me to meet people in the same ‘bateau’ as myself.

Every day for 2-3 hours, watching and writing in french , for 4 months .. and I passed with no help from any schools !! So this does prove, you can learn French outside of the “ classroom “ , and it does work. I have the DELF to prove it !

I do need to increase my level of French, so I can get a better job. So I now attend ‘ Mairie de Paris” classes, which are the best so far ! But getting in is very tricky, because you must have a Paris address. Suburbs do not count – they kick you out . keep in mind, these classes are very inexpensive – 35.00 a month for evening classes. The class is also structured, and uses a textbook. (yes !) This is great, because you can feel your self advancing ( like a snail) from one chapter to the next. Learning( those damn) verbs and (sex crazed – M/F)nouns as you ascend the mountain called – French !

It’s a very slow process for me- because I never really thought, I would be HERE! And let me honest with you, this language has no logic at all – how can a table (la table) have a sex ? the french must have had TONS of time on their hands to make every noun a sex – and how this was decided, was it in some tower ..where old men gathered over wine- , and created a complex language called French. So now, I am off ( je vais) to my train (masc. le train) to attend my class (possessive fem.) ma class.
Wish me luck ! ( bonne chance- feminine)

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