This week I had my first ever experience of teaching a lesson in French! I had been asked to deputise just for one week and taught one class of Bachelor I students ‘Harmonie’ and another Improvisation. It was good to be on my feet (literally) and to be teaching again after having observed lessons for several weeks. My small group of students were keen to study and were very helpful when correcting my French! Of course, the best way to learn is ‘to do’ (central to Dalcroze methodology) so it was not surprising that I probably learned more French in those two hours than I’d learned in the five weeks of my stay in Switzerland!
The students on the Bachelor and Masters programme at the Institut Jaques-Dalcroze (ijd) come from all over the world and it’s impressive to see how quickly the youngsters learn a second or third language. Out of a total cohort of around 30 students there are students from at least 10 different countries. I have been trying hard…making myself speak French as much as possible. I also listen to French radio each morning and the teaching at the ijd is all in French too…BUT…it is a slow process. I find that my comprehension varies enormously between different speakers, situations and contexts. For example, my landlady speaks beautifully slowly AND clearly and I guess, because our conversations tend to be quite simple, I can pretty much understand everything. Some of the ijd teachers are more easy to understand than others. I was told by an audiologist that when we hear a foreign language we need the decibel level to be 10 notches higher and I find this to be true. In some classes I observe it can be almost impossible to understand the teacher if she/he is speaking over recorded music, for example. If the teacher has his/her back to you it’s also more difficult. And, of course, it’s easier to understand short simple instructions rather than a deep and meaningful philosophical reflection on the meaning of life. Students are more difficult to follow than older adults…they seem to speak incredibly fast and I think they mumble! If they’re anything like British teenagers or young adults then I’m sure I’m right! One problem is that all the teachers speak fluent English so tend to speak to me in English. And the few occasions when they address me in French we inevitably switch to English the first moment I don’t understand something. I sometimes feel quite relieved to find myself speaking to someone who doesn’t apparently want to switch to English.
So – it felt a bit of an achievement to manage to give my instructions in French last week and I look forward to improving on my effort in the future.
One last thought…it has been quite an experience being a student in a class when the teacher isn’t speaking your home language. It’s easy to only ‘half’ understand what’s going on, or to think you’ve understood something to find you haven’t. There have been occasions when I’ve not understood a game and have made mistakes because of it. I wonder if the teacher/s realised the mistakes were due to misunderstanding or simply thought I couldn’t do the exercise? It makes me realise the responsibility we have when teaching those for whom English isn’t a home language! It’s not easy for those students and we should always have the patience to explain as clearly as we can.