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French teacher interview: Martine Purcell discusses Fluent French Audio

In September, 2005, we interviewed Martine Purcell, who recommends our recordings to her adult students.

Martine is from France, and she moved to Oregon 14 years ago. After receiving requests from her new American friends for help in learning the French language and planning vacations, she started giving private lessons. With her rigorous education and lifelong travel throughout France, it was a natural. Most of her students are adults who are working on becoming fluent or maintaining the French they have learned in college, but Martine does have middle and high school students. She also sees a fair number of adults who are just brushing up their French in preparation for a vacation. Martine makes sure that the students are getting what they need to achieve their own goal.

Q: Martine, what's the advantage of private lessons compared to group classes?

A: Private lessons allow for more effective use of students' time. I am able to tailor the lessons 100% to each student's own goals and abilities, correcting and explaining as we go. Even the student's home assignments are most helpful when customized to their need under the direction of a good tutor.

An interesting and less obvious advantage of private lessons relates to the "psychological" aspect. A one-to-one relationship is far less intimidating and increases confidence. Week after week, month after month, a good rapport is built up. A goal can be easily achieved when it can be done with pleasure in a relaxed atmosphere, without the constraints and conflicting needs of others in a group.

Q: What are some examples of the way you tailor your teaching to different students?

A: At the first encounter, after a discussion with new students, I am able to offer them an appropriate path to reach their goal. Individual goals call for a different blend of vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and oral comprehension. I have had excellent results with my chosen series of exercise books -- vocabulary, grammar and French civilization, each offered in beginning, intermediate and advanced levels. But, the allocation of time between the books is dictated by the students' goals. For example, most students have some thoughts of travel in France, albeit in an indeterminate future, and are primarily interested in conversational abilities. Their first thoughts might well be of vocabulary and this is especially appropriate for a beginner. As the student progresses, some grammar skills are an essential addition. Eventually, the student will want to do some rudimentary writing in French, to train the brain to speak in French.

Interestingly, some students who were originally seeking only conversation skills have grown to enjoy the intellectual rigueur of grammar expertise. Virtually all of my American students, however well educated, tell me that they have had relatively little exposure to formal English grammar in their youth. For them the similarity or opposite rules of French versus English grammar is a "fun" discovery. Not to pat myself on the back, but to make grammar "fun" is a teaching skill!

Other students have different reasons to join me. Some, although happy to travel some day, are primarily interested in augmenting their intermediate/advanced skills. They are primarily with me for the intellectual skills. This might be especially true of more mature adults, determined to keep their minds young!

For some students, especially some of my teenagers, I find it helpful to incorporate a cooking session, perhaps for crepes or tarte Tatin, while simultaneously teaching the French language.

Then again, other students have grown to especially enjoy reading popular fiction such as Simenon, while others love the classics such as Voltaire, Flaubert, etc. The choices are infinite, as are the means of making the learning experience enjoyable.

Q: So If I just want to brush up on my French in preparation for vacation, how far ahead should I plan?

A: Usually, intermediate and advanced students who want to brush up their French skills should come 4 or 5 months in advance. For real beginners, I offer an 8-week course of basic "survival" classes, i.e. dealing with directions, key questions, food, shopping, money, numbers, etc.

Regardless of their level, I offer invaluable tips to help their enjoyment during their trip to France, i.e. describing the variety of the sightseeing of each region, finding a charming place to stay, etc. After all, I passed more than 40 years of my life in France. Having lived in Brittany, Marseille, Paris, Bordeaux and Nice I know the country very well.

Q: What about the "immersion" classes? How does that go for most people? Do they get exhausted by the end of the day? Or does their confidence increase as the day goes on?

A: A few years ago, some students asked me to organize a full day of French conversation for a small group of 8 to 10 persons. And that has been a big success. So I am continuing to offer this option. We start around 9:30am and we have interesting and interactive practice of vocabulary, grammar, reading, games or watching a short movie that leads us to a good discussion. But probably the time that everybody enjoys the most is the "dejeuner." Each student brings a delicious dish that we share, often with a glass of wine. It seems that everybody becomes more fluent after that! By the end of the session in late afternoon, they may feel a little tired but they are very happy to have been able to listen and communicate with each other all day long. The vast majority are eager for a repeat session in the future.

Q: You also offer phone lessons. Could you tell me a little about them?

A:Phone lessons are for intermediate or advanced students. Obviously it removes any inconvenience of travel. But equally important, it is also ideal for increasing conversation skills. Phone conversations increase the emphasis on clear pronunciation and attention to the words we are hearing without facing a person. A spontaneous conversation, like a phone chat with a friend, gives you the opportunity to use "le language de tous les jours" (everyday language). And phone classes can be tailored to the student's needs or interests.

Q: You recommend Fluent French Audio to some of your students. Can you tell us why?

A: I like to recommend Fluent French Audio because oral comprehension is one real challenge in a foreign language. Your program is very unique, with the CDs offering 3 different speeds and the booklet with a line-by-line translation in English of each interview and explanation of typical French idioms. Each student can work at his level smoothly with pleasure and without a dictionary! My students tell me that they really enjoy listening to the different accents; it gives them a real exposure to "le language parle" (the spoken language). Your recordings are a great help for a tutor like me. Merci!

Visit Martine's website and learn more about her classes.

To better help my students, I created a new site and am closing down FluentFrench.com. To see the new site, please go to www.ListeningFluency.com Thanks! David Tolman dtolman@fluentfrench.com