Skype lessons help expats use French confidently - Credit: Archant

Céline Van Loan and Vincent Anthonioz, both French native teachers, started Learn French at Home 15 years ago, teaching French over the phone to expats. Over the years, technological developments and the use of Skype has allowed them to teach across the globe and develop a fun and interactive way of learning.

French language skill can help you get to know your French neighbours (c) shironosov / Getty Images

French language skill can help you get to know your French neighbours (c) shironosov / Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

When Learn French at Home began, Skype calls and internet learning from home were yet to become popular. But with a passion for linguistics and for teaching Céline and Vincent set out to help people get the skills they needed for a life in France. Today, Learn French at Home offers a variety of one-on-one personalised online courses, and a free online magazine for language learners, French Accent, is produced every two months. Céline Anthonioz explains more about how online lessons work and why confidence is key in language learning.

Why do people take your courses?

Our students can have different objectives. For some it's to help them integrate in their new life in France, for others it's to get a job - so we help them with their CV and prepare them for interviews, or prepare them for DELF exams or for the TCF for French nationality test. For others it is just for the love of the French language. We have quite a few Francophiles who just want to speak at another level, can talk about culture and read novels and can enjoy France and travel and follow movies and so on. Lessons are one-on-one, so a lot of the time you establish a wonderful strong teacher/student relationship and the lessons become, not only educational, but also fun and people look at it, beyond just learning, but as a hobby.

How can formal French lessons help expats?

It is difficult to really master a language or feel comfortable in speaking with confidence if you don't know how it works, if you don't have the basics, the backbone understanding. Confidence is a big one in order to be able to go to up to a French person knowing that your question will make sense and is properly structured and polite. The French will appreciate the fact you are making an effort by saying 'could I have' instead of 'I want' for example. I have noticed people come to us who have not had learnt actual structure and will most of the time lack that confidence. - Credit: Archant

How important is feedback?

Feedback is crucial when you are learning a language. Not just some friend saying you are doing a good job, you need actual constructive feedback i.e. 'you are doing great here but we need to work in this area of the language if you want to really go to another level'. It is such a rewarding part of the job to see students suddenly gain more confidence in speaking, seeing that they are reusing vocabulary that they have been learning. And it is very rewarding for them to be able to say 'see Celine I am using the right preposition here', or 'the polite form, I used it right!' You see it building up and it's like a puzzle that comes together nicely.

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What is the advantage of learning on Skype?

When I started teaching it was on the telephone and then when Skype and other internet voice chat services came along I was relieved to have such a wonderful tool and it made lessons much more comfortable. With Skype we have a chatbox, and we use it like a blackboard in a class room. We type in it, vocabulary and any grammar points that we introduce in the lesson, so this way we get the written and verbal elements at the same time. After each lesson we copy and paste all the notes into a word file for the student. This way the student can review the notes of the lesson. Skype also means we can use a webcam so the student and the teacher can see each other the whole time, and we can also share the screen to show resources and videos. Taking the lessons on Skype offer great scheduling flexibility, the student can take the lesson at their preferred time and day. Another wonderful benefit is the fact that no one needs to drive to a class, students take the lessons from their comfort of their home or office.

What are your online lessons like?

Depending on the student's objectives and skill level we might do a conversation session where we trigger the person to talk a lot and gently correct them as they go along to work maybe on their pronunciation.

Or if they need a lot of work on grammar, we introduce a grammar point on Skype and then we back it up with a lot of exercises immediately, maybe share the screen and show a document that we work together on.

We also do what we call movie talks, where we play through a short movie shot by shot and at every shot do a brainstorm on related vocabulary, that's a wonderful exercise.

How can people find out which lessons are right for them?

When someone registers for lessons, they have an initial free session with the student. We find out what their French learning objectives are and evaluate their French level by doing a couple of different exercises. After that we are able to tell them what their French level is, what their strengths are, what they need to work and which course format would be most suitable for them - whether we will focus more on verbal expression or on grammar for example. I also ask what their schedule is like and when they want to take the lessons. We have teachers in different parts of the world so we can schedule lesson 24 hours a day. And we also suggest the pace of learning, maybe one or two lessons per week depending on what their objectives and timelines are.

Is your course a big commitment?

People sign up for a pack of lessons which could contain anywhere between four and 55 lessons, the bigger the pack the better the price, and at the end of the pack you can renew or not, and really learn at your own pace. Packs are valid for a year. Our regular format is 50-minute lessons with a teacher on Skype, plus one hour of homework that is also personalised and corrected by the teacher.

Do you have lessons for children?

Yes, we offer lessons for kids aged six years and above. It's a wonderful way for them to start learning French. Kids love computers we can do so many interactive and fun things on the screen with them. They learn very, very quickly, kids are like little sponges so that's always exciting.

How can French Accent magazine help learners?

French Accent is an online magazine that we started 12 years ago and the objective is to give students, and anyone who wishes to practice reading in French, a way to practice verbal comprehension in reading and audio - there are audio links in some articles. We have different columns, on grammar, life in France, politics, and French culture. We also have a crossword puzzle, and in order to find the words you have to read all of the articles - It's a wonderful tool to continue to learn new vocabulary and practice comprehension. And starting in June it will be available free online!