Teaching English in France
- Credit: Archant
Discover how you can take advantage of being a native English speaker in France with Caroline Zilboorg’s guide to teaching
If you live in France or are thinking of moving soon, generating an income could well be on your mind. While gîtes and chambres d’hôtes can provide some revenue, teaching English is another option that could generate a complementary income or even become a full-time professional job.
BACK TO BASICS
In order to teach fulltime in French state secondary schools, lycées or universities, you need to be a French citizen and have French teaching qualifications.
Primary schools are not really an option either as the level of English required to teach in these is quite low and your native-speaking abilities are not going to open doors for you except perhaps as a volunteer – which can be lots of fun and good for your French.
Instead, there are two main alternatives: working as a self-employed private teacher and working for a language school. The first option requires that you go down the route of the auto-entrepreneur or micro-bic scheme, both involving some French paperwork (or a lot, depending on how much you earn) and a requirement to pay social charges, which can turn out to be rather expensive. You can explore this possibility on the English version of the URSSAF website.
The advantages of self-employment are many. You can sell yourself on the basis of experience and diplomas you already have, such as teaching experience in the UK, for instance or a PGCE or university degree. Any experience of teaching – at work during professional training sessions or even in a Sunday school – will be a real plus.
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You will need to drum up your own business, but can often find an interesting variety of students of all ages and backgrounds eager for private or small group lessons: children after school, young people preparing for their brevet and bac exams, older people who want to improve their English during their retirement.
In cities all across France, there are institutions that offer English classes. The local French Chamber of Commerce may have a language centre, but in most cases private language institutes offer one-on-one instruction and small group classes to targeted audiences.
Some cater for young people who need extra help in preparing for their state exams, but most offer classes to professionals in a wide variety of businesses who need English for their work. The French government encourages these classes and requires companies to offer ‘continuing education’ to their employees in the form of training during or after working hours. Fortunately English is a very popular choice.
Contrary to popular belief and some promotional material on the internet, a diploma in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is not always necessary. Past teaching experience (in any subject and at any level) is a real advantage as is a university degree (which some language schools indeed require). A working knowledge of French is also important but the fact that you are a native English speaker is your real ticket here.
As a native speaker you can give students the conversational practice they need – either face-to-face or on the phone.
A comprehensive (though not necessarily complete or current) list of English language schools in France can be found at www.eslbase.com/schools/france. This website is a good resource for initial contact but it’s important to be available and in the area as well because opportunities can come up at the last minute and being in the right place at the right time is crucial.
Indeed, finding a job may well be one of your criteria in choosing a French property. If ‘location, location, location’ means anything at all, it doesn’t just mean a gorgeous view from a peaceful terrace in July and basic local amenities within a few kilometres; it may also determine how long the commute to work is likely to be.
The closest market town is a big draw for farming communities, as the closest primary school will be for families with young children, but the closest city is an issue if you are serious about teaching English in France. There simply isn’t usually the demand for more than an occasional group class or a few individual classes per week in the countryside.
If you are looking for regular or fulltime employment as an English teacher, you need to consider the distance between your dream home and the nearest urban centre.
The British Council, for example, offers English courses at seven centres: three in central Paris, two in Parisian suburbs and one each in Lyons and Marseille. The Wall Street Institute has 65 centres in France of which 11 are in Paris, four are in Lyons and two are in Marseille.
But large cities in other regions also cater for those who need to improve their English. For me in Brittany, teaching English has meant commuting to Rennes, a dynamic city of over 200,000 inhabitants with a strong business community.
Lessons by telephone or Skype are logical options for distance learning, and having access to and a familiarity with internet resources are essential for this sort of teaching.
Many professionals use their English for conference calls and emails, so this kind of teaching is a practical option in that it gives students ‘real life’ practice. That said, however, while phone lessons are an important element of some language teaching, the best teaching and learning is most likely to happen in individual or small group lessons. In my experience, telephone lessons have always been only one aspect of any good teaching experience and have, whenever possible, been supplemented by regular face-to-face contact.
There are, however, many language institutes that offer only distance learning, among them PhoneBox Language, Englishtown and Telelangue, all of which recruit instructors internationally and specialise in the growing English-for-professionals market.
The advantages of distance learning for someone who wants to teach English are clear: you can teach from the garden of your holiday home in the rural Auvergne or from the cosy study of your granite cottage in Finistère.
The disadvantages, however, are equally obvious: you will be competing for your job with anyone anywhere in the world who wants to do the same thing.
Language teaching typically pays between €15 and €30 per hour. Despite the low pay, however, working in France for a French company will entitle you to the all-important Carte Vitale, giving you healthcare coverage.
In addition, your employer will pay your social charges so that, when you do retire, you will have a French pension - probably a rather small one, but a regular one for the rest of your life.
These advantages go a long way to compensate for the low pay-- and the joy of teaching students who are usually highly motivated and eager to learn is immeasurable.
TYPES OF STUDENTS
Professionals who learnt English at school have probably never had a native speaker as a teacher. While many have travelled to the UK for a week with secondary school groups, they may never have had the conversation opportunities they need to allow them to exchange information with English-speaking clients.
English is taught in French schools and even at French universities, primarily as a silent skill: a matter of reading and writing rather than speaking and listening. Students may have attained very good marks translating a passage from F. Scott Fitzgerald into French, but they may have real difficulty expressing themselves – especially on the telephone – as well as understanding what is said in response.
To give you an example of what you may experience, a typical first phone conversation with one of my students might go something like this:
‘I am Jean.’
‘Hello Jean, this is Caroline, your new teacher.’
‘This is Caroline. I am your new teacher and I’m looking forward to working with you.’
‘Excusez-moi. I do not understand. Can you repeat, please?’
‘Ah! Je suis stupid. C’est trop difficile!’
But of course it’s not too difficult and Jean isn’t stupid at all. What he needs is confidence, practice and intelligent instruction - and such a conversation can be the beginning of a very rewarding interchange, part of the wonderful career of teaching English in France.