I vividly remember the state of my stomach and the sweat on my palms as I waited outside the classroom door. People shuffled around me, all of us avoiding eye-contact but simultaneously desperate for a connection. We were all freshly transplanted here—many of us feeling like we were trying to find a light switch in an unfamiliar pitch-black room.
The door abruptly swung open and a woman stood in its frame—she wasn’t moving to let us in. She then said a phrase in French and proceeded to question each person waiting outside the door. “NON!” She would exclaim when someone stumbled over their words—and she would point to a direction in the corridor reserved for those who failed to pass her test. The ones that somehow figured it out would be ushered into the classroom, and it wasn’t until she was sure that the failures were absolutely mortified that she stepped aside and let the rest in the door. This was the first day of A1 French language class. It was also the day I grew an aversion to learning the French language.
Fast forward a decade. That’s right, ten years. I look back on my introduction to French and my stomach still turns. Since then I’ve not had much courage or desire to step foot inside another classroom. I’ve tried a few more—some were ok, others a waste of time and money, and the rest were a great way for me to feel like I had some human interaction during the day but ultimately, my “conversational fluency” in French has been a result of daily organic interactions. It’s fine, I can “get by”, but I’ve recognized as my kids have started public schools and my life is much more immersed in and dependent on conversing in French, that my lack of confidence is a huge issue. And I can trace that timidity back to that first day, standing outside that classroom door, and being placed in the failure group because I had never once learned a single word in French, and I had no idea what this woman was asking of me. I had been traumatized by a language class and it has affected the quality of my life here in Switzerland.
When I was chatting with Isabelle, founder of the online language platform called Prêt à Parler, I recalled this experience to her and she nodded as she recognized this all too familiar story. I told her that the most frustrating part is that I feel like a shell of myself when living here—because I cannot fully express myself in French, I cannot fully be me. I don’t engage in friendly small talk at the park, I sometimes replace a response with an easy smile, I don’t take initiative or offer opinions…I am a smaller version of myself. And I don’t like it.
When Isabelle finally convinced me to try out a lesson using Prêt à Parler, I went through the same reactions leading up to my lesson. Only this time, my palms were sweating as I sat at my dining room table and there was no hallway of failure. My computer screen indicated the lesson was about to start and I honestly thought about closing the laptop. But then Marion, one of Prêt à Parler’s Super Profs, popped up with a huge smile and “Hello!” and I couldn’t help but smile back. And eventually, my palms dried, my stomach settled, and before I knew it the hour was over. My brain was tired, and my jaw ached (from smiling? From speaking French vowels?), and I felt proud and accomplished, and like I made a new friend. Wait a minute. Is this what learning French can be like? Can it be familiar and challenging? Can it be flexible and accountable? According to every single Prêt à Parler student I spoke to, the answer is an emphatic yes.
for social life…
Amy moved to Geneva from the US in March of last year. She didn’t necessarily need to learn French for the office, but she wanted to improve the quality of her day-to-day life–to be able to chat with people in shops, restaurants, or even meet new friends. She found Prêt a Parler to be the perfect solution as it was catered to her specific needs and fit her timetable. When asked what the biggest surprise or revelation she had after using Prêt à Parler she said,
for professional life…
Otto is intending to relocate to Lausanne this autumn and is currently working as a lawyer for a large international law firm in the Netherlands. His goals are to improve his business/legal French as effectively and quickly as possible to reach B2 in just six months. Otto’s profession doesn’t give him a lot of free time, and he often finds his weekly calendar to be unpredictable. That’s the main reason Otto chose Prêt à Parler–for its flexible and individualized lessons. He is amazed at how rapidly he has improved and emphatically recommends everyone to try it.
for overall confidence...
Alastair tried it all. He tried group classes, 5 days a week intensive classes, and evening classes. He grew frustrated by his lack of improvement and ultimately found that his attempts resulted in time and money largely unfulfilled. When he discovered Prêt à Parler through a newsletter, he was able to communicate exactly what he needed and they curated lessons based on these needs and desires. Despite his previous experiences, he wasn’t starting from scratch–and his Super Prof was able to expand and build upon this language foundation. His biggest revelation? How well IT works; the interface, the interactive platforms, the follow up emails with additional resources including a video file of each lesson to review–it just works. And what advice does Alastair have for anyone teetering on the edge, hesitant to give Prêt à Parler a try?
If all of this still hasn’t convinced you to make the leap this year and finally learn French, we are offering TLG readers exclusive free access to French For Everyday Life & Prêt à Parler’s Premium Webinar Program for 3 months (value of 327 CHF) if you book a pack of 20 lessons or more with them!
It’s time. Time to dive in and fully immerse yourself in life here in French-speaking Switzerland. Just think of the beautiful journey that lies ahead when we can finally feel confident to be fully ourselves.