Isabelle Nicolas-Johnson, Founder of Prêt à Parler
What does Prêt à Parler mean ?
Prêt à Parler means ”Ready To Talk”. Our mission is to give you the right tools to boost your confidence and get you speaking French from the very first class! Oui, oui!
Can you tell us more about yourself ?
I am a trained opera singer originally from Montreal, Canada. During the completion of my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Opera and Languages at McGill University (Montrea, Canada), I became a real language aficionado. I then moved to Germany in the hope of finding work as a professional opera singer. I fulfilled several exciting contracts and improved my German considerably in the process, but also felt there were other ways I could share my love of languages with people.
I have always loved the comprehension of languages, learning new vocabulary and expressions, any culture-related facts, and even grammar, for some reason! I am passionnate about understanding the culture, musicality, poetry, and beauty inherent to the languages in which I perform. Like many Québécoises, I speak French and English fluently. Through opera, I learned German, in the context of Mozart, Strauss, and Wagner as well as Italian with Rossini, Puccini, and Verdi. In combination with my opera contracts, I started working for several language companies based in Germany, meeting clients on site and teaching online. I rapidly became one of their most sought-after language trainers, responsible for many of their VIP clients (Allianz, Caceis Bank, IBM, Munich RE, Philip Morris, Estée Lauder Group, and Bertelsmann). Working as an independent language trainer gave me the flexibility to teach according to my own style and schedule, allowing me to continue to sing and travel. According to my clients, my approach to teaching languages was significantly more enjoyable and efficient, as they felt I instilled my joy of language comprehension in them.
Why did you create Prêt à Parler?
After spending almost four years in Munich, my husband and I moved to Switzerland. A few months later, I started giving private French coaching sessions to international expats based in Geneva. My clients were using words like great, unique, and fantastic to describe my bilingual approach to teaching. I realised the difference a committed multilingual teacher can have on a student. I personally had had great teachers in the past and my clients were telling me that I was fulfilling that role for them. My human and artistic approach to learning languages were at the core of this experience.
In January 2016, I launched Prêt à Parler.
Our mission is to help native and non-native English speaking expats to make French and Business French part of their everyday life in Geneva.
Why is your classical singer background such an advantage ?
Not only do my clients learn the language, they also learn to pronounce it well, thanks to the many diction classes I attended during my opera studies. I have many tips up my sleeve! In addition, I put emphasis on the discovery and appreciation of the francophone culture by providing my clients with interesting and insightful material from recent newspapers, magazines, blogs, YouTube, and much more. Most importantly, they get to have fun in the process, which helps them connecting the dots much faster!
What kind of clients do you work best with?
I love to work with knowledge-hungry professionals who have a specific goal in mind and need some help to successfully reach it. If you are looking for someone very organised, with a traditional as well as a more intuitive and interactice approach to learning French, I am the right person for you! I make sure that we have done some progress at the end of every single lesson we do together. I like to see the effort made while trying to understand a new concept and more importantly, the light in your eyes once you realise that you just connected one piece of information to another. I love to share my knowledge and my passion for my mother tongue so that you can share it later on with others.
Most of my clients had learned French before studying with me. They had either learned it in high school, in traditional group settings once they arrived in their new French speaking country or with a private teacher. Most of them experienced frustration as they had previously worked with teachers who were too focused on grammar rather than the whole picture. They felt that before working with me, they had never been given the tools to be able to speak French in a confident way.
I am a very positive, encouraging, and nurturing teacher. I provide a lot of tips and use different methods to better adapt to my clients’ various needs and learning styles. There is nothing more satisfactory for me than to see how much progress my clients make with a bit of positive reinforcement from my part and a lot of motivation from theirs. If you really want it, we can make giant steps together.
Which qualities should the ideal French learner try to develop?
Motivated, enthusiastic and cooperative
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Even the best qualified teachers will have a hard time transferring their French skills if you are unwilling to absorb any of it. Motivation is vital to doing well when learning a language.
Hard-working and disciplined
Learning a language involves some efforts. In order to better your skills, you will have to be persevering and determined. Your active language skills will not improve just by listening to your teacher. The trainer can teach, guide and assist you in your learning process, but can’t do the actual learning and practising for you.
Inquisitive, realistic and patient
Do not be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something (a word, expression, idiom, grammar point, etc.). This not only shows your interest but also gives your teacher valuable feedback. Learning a language takes time, but if you practise often outside the classroom, your French skills will pick up quickly. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but one day at a time!
Open-minded, sociable and unafraid to make mistakes
It is a joy to work with people who aren’t afraid to share their opinions and experiences! It is however important to come to the lesson with an open mind to new concepts which might not exist in your mother tongue. It is equally important to put into practice what you learn during a lesson. Controlled practice and free conversation are essential to internalise structure and vocabulary as well as improve pronunciation. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: this is the best way to learn a new language! Finally, if you enjoy meeting new people and willingly dare to use French during your everyday life in Geneva, you will definitely make much faster progress.