Although I was enrolled in a quattorial which was supposed to have three other students, I ended up being paired with just one other student each of the two weeks I attended class. I was enrolled in the morning course, which started about 8:30 AM and ended at about 1:00 PM, at which point I was just about brain-dead. My fellow students, a fairly young German-speaking Swiss banker the first week and a very young Italian graduate student the second week, stayed on for the afternoon classes, but I went back to the apartment and had a very late lunch with my son.
There were usually late afternoon or evening activities offered (guided trips to the Louvre or to different neighborhoods). My fellow students said these were excellent, and I know it would have been valuable for me to further practice my French, but my son was not interested in attending them and I felt I needed to spend time with him. The OISE staff understood that he had some psychological difficulties and never pressed me to attend.
As a language teacher myself, I was especially interested in how OISE conducted its classes. Working two-on-one with different professors was ideal, in my opinion. We got individual attention but having a partner lessened the strain of constant interaction in a foreign language. I was also impressed with how well-rounded the program was … in many ways, similar to the intensive English program that I work for.
As my fellow students and I were considered “advanced,” we studied challenging points of grammar such as the subjunctive and conditional tenses, read newspaper articles and discussed the topics in relation to our own experiences (for example, French political parties as compared to those in the U.S. and Italy), watched various video clips (electronic cigarettes, Yves St. Laurent, etc.) and discussed them, and spent a portion of each day preparing a PowerPoint presentation that we shared with the staff at the end of the week (with my Swiss partner, we talked about the pilgrimage to St. Jacques de Compostello, and with my Italian partner, the history and a day-tour of the Montmartre neighborhood).
At my age, I’m not expecting great changes, but it definitely helped me in my professional development as a teacher. For the first time, I could really empathize with how my students feel as they gape open-mouthed at their teacher, trying to absorb every word in a less-than-familiar language and struggling to express their teaming thoughts into coherent words.
I have taught three terms since my arrival back in the United States, and I don’t think a class has gone by when I haven’t used “… when I was in French school” to illustrate some points I was making to the students. I think it helps my students to know that I have experienced situations similar to theirs and I know it has made me more sympathetic but also a bit tougher (because I know how much effort I had to put into my schoolwork!).
The best thing about attending my program is that at the end of it, OISE issued me a detailed evaluation of my fluency that satisfied my graduate school advisor as to my degree of language proficiency. I was able to start my last semester of graduate school with the satisfaction of knowing that I no longer had the foreign-language hurdle to overcome.
Not only that, but I felt I had crossed a psychological hurdle as well … from feeling that my French was less than adequate, I now believe that I’m on the road to perfectionnement. My professors gave me more confidence in my abilities, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue my progress by attending OISE again in the future.