Imogen is a busy entrepreneur who, after living for 11 years in Switzerland, has to prepare for her Swiss passport application. She’d also like to have increased confidence in talking to her Swiss friends and neighbours about more difficult and complex topics – politics, relationships, who should win Top Chef etc. She took her FIDE exam on 19 May 2021 and confirmed she passed Oral B1 Ecrit B1 in June of 2021.


Isabelle: Bonjour, bonjour, tout le monde et bienvenue à notre 3e Fide Success Story avec Imogen Hitchcock que nous accueillons avec très, très grand plaisir. Je suis vraiment ravie de vous avoir avec nous cet après-midi, Imogen, merci beaucoup pour votre temps.

Imogen: Merci!

Isabelle: Aujourd’hui, Imogen va nous parler de son expérience à se préparer pour son examen FIDE avec Prêt à Parler. Elle a pris des cours avec notre Super Prof Brice et puis, en mai 2021, en mai dernier, elle a obtenu son passeport des langues FIDE de niveau B1. On est vraiment ravis pour vous, Imogen, bravo! 

Imogen: Merci!

Isabelle: Est-ce que vous pourriez vous présenter pour qu’on apprenne à mieux vous connaître.

Imogen: Oui, salut à tous! Je m’appelle Imogen Hitchcock, comme Isabelle a dit. Je suis anglaise, mais j’habite en Suisse depuis 12 ans maintenant. J’habite dans un petit village dans la région de Lausanne qui s’appelle Cosselle-le-Jura. J’ai ma propre entreprise de communications et je travaille avec les grandes multinationales comme Nestlé, Pfizer, Biogen, etc. C’est un vrai plaisir!

Isabelle: Est-ce que vous devez parfois travailler en français ou c’est seulement pour votre vie quotidienne que vous êtes en français?

Imogen: Au début, je parlais un petit peu français. Juste la base comme bonjour, comment ça va, etc. Mais maintenant, évidemment, je parle plus avec la famille, les amis de mon copain en particulier. Mais oui, c’est une révolution!

Isabelle: Ah super! Est-ce que vous aviez déjà appris le français avant de nous contacter

Imogen: Non, jamais, jamais, parce que j’avais un petit peu peur.

Isabelle: Ah, mais c’est magnifique! Vraiment, vous avez un talent pour les langues. Je trouve que c’est incroyable! Vous avez une belle prononciation. Vraiment, on ne pourrait pas savoir que vous êtes d’un pays anglo-saxon. Vous n’avez pas l’accent typique des gens qui parlent anglais. Bravo à vous, bravo pour ce que vous avez fait. Je pense que vous avez probablement une oreille musicale.

Imogen: Je ne sais pas. C’est Brice!

Isabelle: Ah c’est (votre prof) Brice qui vous a aidé aussi!  Il y a deux petites choses qui pourront peut-être aider les gens qui nous écoutent. Quand on parle de la nationalité: alors, vous êtes anglaise… Donc, pour les femmes, au féminin, c’est anglaise (zzz), on doit entendre le zzzz. Et si vous êtes un homme: alors, je suis anglais (pas de zzzz). Et quand on parle…
Vous habitez en Suisse depuis, vous avez dit, douze ans, hein? Alors, c’est dix (10) plus deux (2). C’est compliqué entre les deux: on a le deux (2) et le douze (12). Quand on fait la liaison: j’habite en Suisse depuis deux ans, on doit entendre vraiment le “eu”, comme des oeufs (eggs). Et douze, on doit entendre le “ouzzzz” (you + z). Donc douze ans (douzan). La différence, elle est toute petite.

Imogen: Oui, exactement j’ai trouvé que c’est l’un des trucs les plus difficiles quand on parle français.

Isabelle: Oui, toutes ces petites nuances. Mais sinon, ce sont de toutes petites choses. Je me permets comme vous parlez si bien en français. Vraiment, c’est du fine-tuning!

But we're going to switch to English so that people who don't understand French well enough yet can understand what we will be discussing because this is precious information for expats living in this French speaking part of Switzerland who need to prepare for the FIDE exam.

So Imogen, can you tell me why you had to pass the FIDE exam? Why did you need to prepare for it?

As I’ve said, I've lived here in Switzerland for 12 years, just over 12 years, and Switzerland is truly my home now and I felt I wanted to get the Swiss passport. But obviously there are very strict regulations on what you have to have in order to get your passport, and language is one of them. And I was also feeling a little bit left out of Swiss life because I couldn't communicate as well as I wanted to as well as I can communicate in English. So I felt this was the time to prepare and be ready to get my Swiss passport but also the time to help me fully integrate into the world around us.

And therefore, you reached out to Prêt à Parler to prepare for your exam. Was there a reason in particular why you contacted us?

I think what you have is something incredibly special. You know, when I started this exercise with you, we're in the middle of COVID, and the fact that you have always been online, the fact that your teachers have always been used to teaching in this way with something that really appealed to me, because we were, you know, online since 2015, using Zoom and I've always loved technology. Even though as you probably know, I'm an opera singer, I never thought I would start an online language school like this. But I got this calling for the online  and especially I just thought it's so efficient it really makes things much easier for both us the teachers but also the clients, especially in the clients to a further flexibility. So I did see all of this.

Yeah, I think for me, one of the great things was obviously I have my own business. I work
long hours like I'm sure you too, Isabelle, and having the flexibility to be able to fit in lessons
in between other meetings and really take it at my own pace and know that my professor was always going to be there to help me along at the pace that I set. That was something that really benefited me. I think.

That's wonderful to hear. We're so glad to have been able to accompany you on your journey in French and for the FIDE exam. And so you worked with our Super Prof Brice. How was it? Tell me how was it to work with him?

Uh, my admit at the start it was a bit I was a bit nervous because, you know, we started straight in French. There was no introduction in English, but he is the most patient man I think I've ever met. He really listens to the way in which you are going to use French and the kind of French you need to speak, and then will adjust his lessons to suit what you need. He gives you homework sometimes but isn't too strict. When like me, I don't have time to finish my homework and so I think patience, very friendly, quite funny, I won't call him very funny 'cause his head will grow too big. Um, but he's just a very kind and professional and expert professor and I really appreciated the time that he took to help me with my French.

So, you could say that you really experienced the joy of learning with Brice? You really felt you enjoyed it.

Yes, which is strange because I think at school certainly, I never really liked learning languages. Uh, because I didn't feel I was very good at them, but Brice certainly helped me see progression and showed me how far I was coming in my French, so yes.

That's wonderful to hear, because that's exactly what I wanted to create for my company. When I learned myself, I learned German, and I learned English and Italian, I never really found the way of learning that I wished I could have, you know, so when I created Prêt à Parler, I thought, OK, I'm going to create the way, the methodology and choose the teachers and me myself when I was teaching as well. I'm going to create exactly what I would have needed at the time when I was studying foreign languages and especially what I felt was lacking was having fun.

So experiencing the joy, you know, laughing and not being stressed, so not being too serious about the language. If you make mistakes, you know it doesn't matter. The point is to remember to learn and to practice and to just, you know, experience the language and the culture. I think that's really important, though I think a lot of us expats in particular and Brits specifically, we're very scared of trying to speak French because we are not perfect, and we're scared of making mistakes.

And I think one thing that I certainly learned through the process is that you need to try. You can get it wrong as I did with you earlier but that's an opportunity to learn something and then you get to practice, and you get to get better. But you must make that first attempt to try and people aren't going to judge you on that, that means they have a very positive nurturing and encouraging approach, and that is something which is very Swiss as well, and that really goes with my own values being born and raised in Quebec. This is how we are taught, and so that's really what I wanted to have in the methodology here at Prêt à Parler. And that's what all the teachers have, and so I'm so glad that you experienced that. And you felt that was maybe one of the reasons why it was so successful for you when you were learning French.

Imogen, we're going to go back to the FIDE topic. Can you share with us one typical scenario question which you were asked by your FIDE examiner?

Absolutely! One of the ones I got asked which made me smile because I had prepared that topic already with Brice was, uhm, I was bicycling to an apartment to go see in apartment. There were two sections to the question, the first one is I had to describe the image I saw in front of me, which was a woman with a broken bicycle and so I had to describe that. And then I had to have a phone conversation with the landlord and explained that I was going to be late and then talk about the kind of thing I was looking for in an apartment.  Luckily, I had already prepared something, and I had had these kinds of conversations before, so I felt very comfortable talking about it.

So you felt you had the right vocabulary. You also had reviewed the verb tenses that you needed to use in order to answer the question. So you felt prepared and confident about it. Even though you didn't have the exact same scenario as you had prepared with Brice.

Exactly, we went through a number of different scenarios with lots of different topics that come up in the day to day life we have here. Whether it's a washing machine, breaking down, or you're at the dentist or the doctor, or you have to pick your kids up from school. So we went through all of these different scenarios. And because we had learned a set of vocabulary because we knew the principles or any of the principles of verbs and how they worked and which verbs were needed for what. It didn't really matter what the question was, because I knew how to formulate an answer. So there was a format that you got to know about with Brice and then you were just ready to answer, to fill in the blanks with whatever was appropriate according to the scenario.

Exactly! That's great. Thank you so much for sharing this and you know it's funny because, over the years and we've been preparing our clients for the FIDE exam since it got out, in January 2019. That's been already three years now. It's been three years and the scenarios haven't really changed a lot. They don't. They haven't evolved, the exam so much. So it's funny when you say the washing machine. And this is something which can be asked to someone who has kids or not. They don't really adapt to your personal situation. They will ask whatever is on their page at that moment you know, so it's good to prepare for it.

And the latest question we've had was about homeopathy. What do you think about alternative medicines? Because that's a topic which is quite dear to the Swiss. Something that as a Canadian we don't really have so many alternatives like that. Your family doctor won't tell you so much to go see a kinesiologist. So it's very interesting it goes with also the everyday life, but also the cultural and the values of the country as well.

I think how Brice prepared certainly me for the exam though, which was really helpful as well as the the more sort of formulaic. Describing a picture and having phone conversation. We also used to have really good debates about topics, so we used to, you know, medicines or what do we think about football or what do we think about whatever it was and we used to have debates on the topics and he would challenge me to come up with a point of view and I think for the FIDE exam, I think that's really important to the examiners. It's not just about being able to deal with everyday situations, but it's also being a about being able to talk about your point of view to somebody as well. 

Yeah, absolutely. Expressing your opinion is very important. They don't mind what your opinion is, they just want to hear it and if you're able to express what you really think. And so these are the vocabulary connected to expressing your opinion is not always something we  have when we are able to express ourselves with the everyday life situation like taking the bus or booking a table at the restaurant. When you have to express what you really think there's extra vocabulary which is needed and you feel that you are prepared well enough with Brice to answer these questions when they came up for you?

Exactly I love, I love a good debate, Isabelle. I do like to express my opinions as I'm sure Brice would tell anyone who asked him and so yes, we had some really great chats and I think you're right, it's not about what you're saying or what your opinion is, but it's about the fact that you can give an opinion and you can have that conversation. And I found you know, outside of the exam. But that's absolute key for talking with, you know friends and family here and people in the village for example.

It's good to have an opinion and be able to discuss that. Absolutely, and then you have a voice. It's not only you know being able to get by. You can really be also closer to your true self in another language. You should be who you are. So important.

Tell me Imogen, how did you feel about your FIDE exam before you reached out to us and after doing the preparation program with us?

I think before I reached out to you it was this giant thing that I didn't really understand. I didn't know that much about. I knew I had to do it at some stage, but I was kind of putting it off and I think because I really wasn't aware of the process or what I would have to do, it was it was almost a little, uh, a little scary. A little. So I was a little nervous about this big unknown. Um, I think once I started talking to Brice and having my lessons with Brice, everything fell into place in a very natural way.

So we started with getting me up to speed with remembering the French I used to know at school and getting me to a decent place and then we started building and then we started preparing for the exam in itself. So I think the way in which the lessons worked, I never felt any pressure in that you're gonna take it next week and you're not ready. I think the way in which we worked was very much I didn't start preparing for the exam until we both felt that I was in a place to pass the exam.

And so, how long did it take for you to prepare and then finally, feel ready to pass the exam?
What was the time frame for you?

Now you're testing my memory, Isabelle. No, I don't think it was that long actually. I don't think it was that long. I think probably under six months. So you know we had our first sort of introductory lessons. Um, I was meeting with Brice once a week because that's all my diary could allow. Once we got to that certain stage, which I guess was after about maybe four months, we booked the ... together, we looked at the different schools that were near to me and which one would be most suited. And then we really sort of ramped up the lessons and we were meetings maybe two times, maybe three times a week to really get prepared for the exam. So that everything was really fresh to your memory.

Did you even have a lesson the day before the exam or just a few days before?

We, I had a lesson before the exam and then I had a quick phone call with Brice on the day of the exam because he, he and I had differing schedules so he couldn't get a lesson on the day. But we did have a very quick phone call, yes.

So, as you can hear with Imogen, what we do is really, we try to accompany our clients. As you know, as best we can according to your schedule. With Imogen, she had a preparation of about six months, and that's usually what you need to get to the B1 level. I would say for Imogen it's a little bit special because you are a very smart cookie and you got to level B1 very quickly starting from scratch, which is almost never heard of I would say. But you put the effort into it, and it's absolutely possible. So for you, Imogen, did you have a deadline? Or you were quite relaxed about when you had to get the exam.

I was quite relaxed. I had sort of a half a plan in the back of my mind about how long the naturalization takes, which is about sort of a year and a half, two years, um, and I was starting that process so I knew I had to get my passport for a certain date to hand in all my papers to the canton, but you know there was no fixed date for me, which worked really well, but I can imagine that if you do have a thick state that you're working towards, I can imagine how the professors would be able to accommodate you and be able to make that happen.

Absolutely! Of course, the ideal scenario is what you experience when you have plenty of time, there's no pressure, and that's what we recommend when people contact us. They say we only have to pass the exam in a year or two. Well, it's never too early to start because then you'll feel very relaxed and comfortable when the time comes for the exam. And others " oh I have my exam on Saturday”. OK, well, we can offer you 2-3 sessions very very intensively and let's see where we can go from there, but we're always able to accommodate or we try it as this as we can. As you said with Brice calling you on the day of the exam, so that's great.

And you said, you know it felt like an elephant. Maybe as we say, in French this FIDE thing or where do I start? It seems so big and then we took it or you took it with Brice one bite at a time until you got to the end.

So that's how we do it. There's no other way and it's never unsurmountable, it's always possible. Everything is always possible if you put the hard work in and I think, you know, that's important to remember that it's not easy even for people who are naturally very good at languages. Learning any language isn't easy, especially when you're juggling work and life and family, and but it doesn't mean that it's not doable. I think with the right support, such as the support that I found with you guys, I think that it is absolutely possible.

I am so glad that we were able to help you with the FIDE. Can you tell me more about where you did the FIDE exam? Because it's always interesting since Prêt à Parler is an online language school, we're not allowed to have the examination done online. It's not something which is offered, so therefore we always want to know. It's always interesting for us to know which institutions are the most I would say suitable for our clients to pass the exam and we know Inlingua is great, the Belle language school in Geneva is great. So where did you do it yourself, Imogen?

I did it actually at Inlingua in Lausanne and so just by Belle opposite of very nice ... that has great coffee.  Oh, just before too. Yes, yes. The actual office itself is very nice. It's quite welcoming. It was very different this time, of course. We're in the middle of the COVID pandemic, so you know there was lots of distance between everyone. There was masks being worn, which made a difference, of course with hearing and understanding but very welcoming team of people. Um, very kind and very I think enthusiastic or wanting you to do well. So it was a release of cajoling atmosphere and they wanted everyone to be able to pass them to do well, which was very appreciated.

We really enjoy our colleagues at the Inlingua. We know they're really nurturing and they are there not to put any sticks in your wheels if I can say so. They're really there to make sure you do your at your best and they don't want you to fail. They want you to succeed. And it's interesting that you're highlighting the fact that when you did the FIDE exam, all the examiners were masked. So as a little update, now, from what we have seen in the last few months, they do not have masks anymore, but they have a protection so the protective glass.  So you can still see the facial expressions, the movement of the mouth and that really makes a difference, especially for more beginner learners.

Yes, absolutely.  It was an extra challenge.

You got it harder, Imogen, when you did it. Seriously, it's not easy to do this.

It's not, but it's great practice 'cause of course everyone now in shops and restaurants were all still wearing masks, so it does give a little bit of practice at least. We are getting used to this new way of the speaking and listening and hearing everyone.

It's so true. So now that you got your ... you are naturalized at the moment you got your Swiss citizenship. Is that correct, Imogen?

Not yet, I'm still working on it, so yesterday actually I did my exam. They asked you to do a knowledge exam so I did that yesterday.

Oh, that was yesterday how fortuitous we're talking today.

Indeed, so I got 98%, so I got one question wrong, which I'm really annoyed about. Um, but I think looking back at my lessons and what I've had to do for the naturalization process. You know, being able to read French better to a certain level, being able to understand questions which are formulated in a slightly strange or formal way, and that was really helpful for all parts of the process you have a lot of forms to fill out. You have obviously your exam to do, which is a written exam. You have a meeting with your local commune maybe? And you have to talk about yourself and your background. I had an hour and a half meeting, so a lot of French going on. And the practice that I put in and the lessons that I'd had have really helped that process along.

You have to write a motivation letter, for example. And that's where your tenses and your verbs come in in full force, 'cause you have to write about your life in the past tense, for example. So everything that I'm doing in order to get my passport is really only possible because I've had these French lessons, because I've had the training that I've had, and so I think you know anyone who's thinking about C permit or naturalization, it's invaluable to get this level of French. In order to feel really comfortable and not depend on someone else to do the work for you. That's really something you need to do yourself, and especially in, I believe the last part of the process for the naturalization is the final interview with the commune.

Yes, I've had that one so that one that one went well.  So that was my hour and a half interview or meeting with the commune. They've changed the process a little bit now. It used to be quite quite scary. I think you were in front of a jury of your peers and you ask lots of questions and I think people were quite scared of that. They've changed it a little to make it more fair for everybody, so therefore there's a written test. There is your meeting with your commune and then there's this letter of motivation. And so all three are now done. My dossier is somewhere in Canton Vaud waiting to go waiting to go to bed.

So you are now fully set. You just need to wait for the answer everything has been done.  We wish you all the very best to ... for this next step. I am confident that we will receive a positive response, but we don't want to jinx anything. We're just sending lots of positive vibes your way. You've done everything you could possibly do. Now it's up to bound to decide, but I have good vibes I, I know it's going to go well. And as you said, they have changed a little bit the interview process because I know that in the past, sometimes the way they were deciding if you would become Swiss or not was through a jury as you said of you know the citizens, but the other people living in the village or living in the commune. And depending on how you answered the questions, they would vote by raising their hand if they wanted you to be Swiss or not, so that was quite quite special and quite nerve wracking to have to go through that process. So I'm glad to hear they they have changed that since.

We're almost at the end of our interview, Imogen. There's one last question I would like to ask you. Having done the process of preparation with us at Prêt à Parler, what would you like to tell other expats who are currently hesitating to take private lessons with us at Prêt à Parler?

I understand the hesitancy. It's a big, it's a big decision. Um, you have to invest time. You have to invest money. You have to really be sure and and that you you want to take this step. But what I would say is put that hesitancy aside, because if you're serious about integrating about becoming part of this wonderful country that is Switzerland, then having some level of language skills is just so important.

With Prêt à Parler I just found I was nurtured through that process I was supported throughout the process, there was no question too stupid and I asked a lot of them. But I found you know my professor was approaching learning with fun and but with the right amount of seriousness as well, and I think if any, the only thing that's holding you back is “I can't afford it” or I don't have enough time”, then those aren't good enough reasons for me.

I think you need to make that investment and that you need to take the leap and give it a go 'cause it's gonna change your life. It's a good investment and it's going to come back to you and pay itself and then you can really use it. The goal is to be able to fly with their own wings, and then you're ready. You are comfortable and you're able to just be you, living your life comfortably, happily interacting with the locals and just being at a next level in front.

If you think if you think about a child and how frustrated they get because they can't show their feelings or talk about what they're feeling because they don't have the language you don't want to be in that position as an adult, and so therefore it's so important to be able to have that language knowledge. The vocabulary, that the ways in which the languages is constructed so that you can actually show the world who you are, talk to people, share your opinions, get things done, go to the bank. All of those things and you know you can't put a price on the freedom that that gives you.

Absolutely! I couldn't say it better, it gives you freedom and peace of mind as well, because you don't depend on anyone. You are strong enough and smart enough to do it yourself. I couldn't say it better. Wow that was so powerful. Thank you so much, Imogen, that was such a great chat. Thank you so much for taking the time it was such a pleasure. I just wish you all the best with your baby, your beautiful company, Talk to Beaumont. Is there anything you would like to tell us about your company maybe something you would like to share. Is there anything we can follow we could look at your blog that you would like to share with us?

I can always do a plug for the company, sure. Beaumont is my communications agency. It's been running for about 6 years and we really work with teams, individuals, and companies. And help them build influence through the way in which they tell their story.  So internal communications, change, communications, crisis communications, all of those kind of things we love to solve problems. So that's what I do so you can find me LinkedIn pretty much. My websites, erm anywhere.

And as I can hear, and you can hear, Imogen is an expert at communicating both in English and French now. So congratulations, I would trust you my eyes closed and would wholeheartedly work with you. Thank you so much, Imogen.

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