Improving your Foreign Language Skills as an Au Pair


Hello everyone! My name is Shelly and I’m a French and Spanish student at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. I’ve just spent two months in France as an au pair and this month I’ll be going to Spain to work as a languages assistant for nine months. Of course, I’m not French. I’m actually English and I was born in Southampton in the south of England but but I now live in Northern Ireland. So, why am I doing this video in French? Well, before leaving for France, I decided to make a wee video in which I speak French, purely to see my progress in the language before and after my time in France. And during my time there I gave it some thought and decided I could perhaps help others if I were to share the before and after videos to show this speaking progress. So I will now show the first video I made before going to France and afterwards I’ll explain why I think it’s important to spend some time abroad to improve you linguistic skills. Two months ago… Well, tomorrow I’m going to France to be an au pair for a French family. This is the first time I’ve done this so I’m both nervous and excited about going. I decided that I wanted to make videos each week to talk a little bit about what I’ve done that week or what I’m going to do the following week to reflect on my journey and, at the end of it, be able to see my progress in French because, of course, when I’m there in France I would like to be able to improve in my French. So, I would really like to see this progress from the beginning to the end. What do you think? In my opinion, there isn’t a big difference between my French from before and after because, of course, you have to spend a lot of time abroad in order to improve. But what I’ve noticed is that I now speak a bit faster and I would also say that my accent is perhaps more French, although I think it’s still very obvious that I’m English. Furthermore, I learnt a lot of very practical vocabulary for daily life in France and perhaps the most important thing is that I’m now more comfortable with speaking English and that was actually the thing that I really wanted to improve in my French. ‘Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.’ – Albert Einstein For me, writing was always easier than speaking and although I received good grades during my studies I wasn’t happy because in the real world, whenever I wanted to speak with real French people I was scared because I couldn’t find my words or formulate sentences and so for me it was very difficult to have a basic conversation with someone else. When I was in France I learnt a lot of new vocabulary, expressions, and also the right pronunciation for words. I had to speak in French almost all the time because the children only knew how to say the numbers up to ten in English and I didn’t meet many people who could speak in English with me. And so, I tried to teaching the children little words and expressions in English which is a somewhat different experience for an au pair because normally the au pair has to speak in English, or whatever their mother tongue is, with the children. ‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.’ – Ludwig Wittgenstein The first week for me was rather tiring because, naturally, everyone was speaking in French. And also, I was learning lots of new words And I discovered that the French use ‘le langage familier’ (colloquial language) – slang – all the time and idiomatic expressions. So, almost all the words that I knew were useless in conversations but that had caused another problem for me because I had to recognise between le langage familier (colloquial language) and le langage courant (everyday speech) to know how to use one word or another in a given context. Moreover, in speech, the French don’t often use the ‘ne’ for negative sentences. For example, they say, ‘Je sais pas’ instead of, ‘Je ne sais pas’ (I don’t know). At first I started speaking like that But after a little while I said to myself that it would be better to speak correctly since I’m still a student of the language and I don’t want to speak poorly in a formal context. ‘Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.’ – The Dalai Lama My au pair family helped me a lot with the French language and even the children developed the skill to reflect on what they were saying so that I could understand. And after some weeks, I got used to the vocabulary and the accents of the family, so it was less difficult for me. Sometimes I had difficulty expressing myself. especially if the children were asking me many questions or if they were overexcited and I had to calm them down. But with them, I learnt to speak in French even with mistakes because beforehand, I always wanted to speak perfectly and if not, it meant that I didn’t know how to speak French. But that’s not actually possible. ‘It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.’ – Theodore Roosevelt When we’re scared of speaking, we don’t speak. I’ve made many very very embarrassing mistakes but that’s how we improve. And I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes during this video but that’s all part of language learning. I’m very proud of my progress and that I’m now capable of having a conversation if someone comes up to me because before when I wanted to speak with someone, I had to prepare my sentence, say it several times in my head and, as a result, I didn’t understand the answer and I wasn’t really ready for the conversation. ‘Travel is never a matter of money but of courage.’ – Paulo Coelho Thank you so much for watching this video and this is actually the first video I’ve made on YouTube and I hope to make more when I’m in Asturias in Spain to share with you my experience there. If you would like to know more about my experience in France as an au pair or perhaps you need advice on the role or how you can improve your speaking, I’ve added the link to my blog below when you can find many posts on these subjects. If you liked this video or it’s helped you, please give me a like, or a ‘j’aime’ – I don’t know how you guys say it in French – and suscribe. Let me know what you think in the comments and if you have any advice for this video or corrections for my French, I would to know. Thank you, and until next time!

One Reply to “Improving your Foreign Language Skills as an Au Pair”

  1. Il y a une grande différence!! Félicitations!!!!
    Tu parles très bien et tu as raison – il vaut mieux parler correctement, surtout si l'on enseigner la langue!!! Tout ce que tu as préparé dans ta tête avant de parler n'a pas été une perte de temps!! Bonne continuation et hasta pronto!

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