In this series, our CEO Isabelle Nicolas discusses with Irene Abraham about her successful exam preparation which led her to obtain her FIDE Passeport des langues in July 2022.
Irene works as a toxicologist at JTI and has been living in Geneva for the past 10 years. She contacted us to improve her French conversation as she wanted to feel more comfortable in her everyday life in situations such as family gatherings (her husband is French!) and discussions with her daughters’ crèche and school teachers.
When she realised that she had to renew her Permis C by early August 2022, she decided to prepare for her FIDE exam with our Super Prof Brice. On July 19th 2022, she passed her A2 written and B1 oral FIDE exams with flying colors. This now means that she is fully covered to apply for both her Permis C and her Swiss naturalisation, which she plans on doing in the near future.
Your Super Prof Brice and the whole Prêt à Parler Team are super proud of your achievement! Toutes nos félicitations, Irene!
Isabelle: So, Irene, we're going to switch to English so everybody can understand your answers and your experience. Can I ask you, why did you have to pass your FIDE exam?
Irene: So I was taking the FIDE because it's been ten years and I can apply for Swiss naturalization. And to do that, I needed to prove that I had a B1 spoken and A2 written. And so that was the initial reason to do it. Then after a while, I realized, wait a minute, the rules have changed. And so I really also need a FIDE exam to prove that I can speak French at all to renew my C permit. And so I was looking for a company and Prêt à Parler looked like a great fit.
Isabelle: We're so glad you contacted us. May I ask you how you came across Prêt à Parler? How did you hear about us?
Irene: I saw some things on YouTube, some things on online when I was searching for different possible schools. And what drew me was the lessons seemed like very dedicated teachers, people that cared, things that weren't too --- fixed, but would actually help me in my day to day life.
Also, my partner, he's French. I'm American, as I said, and I could keep up with hearing the conversation, but I couldn't really enter into the conversation and I wanted to. And it was really embarrassing that my French partner's mother started trying to learn more English because she wanted to talk to me and I was in her home not having a French to really talk with her. So I really wanted to fix that.
Isabelle: You wanted to go beyond the level that you were at with your speaking skills because you're listening skills were so good, you could understand everything but what you had in mind, you couldn't really express what you wanted to say and how you really were in French. That was the main thing, right?
Can I ask you, how do you feel now after having done your lessons with our teacher Brice? Do you feel that your level of confidence has increased? What has changed since you started the lessons with us?
Irene: I am way more confident in French. Before, I would be second guessing even the things that I thought I could say. And now I have more confidence that what I'm thinking to say actually are good and that they work and that they're useful to the conversation.
So yeah, the confidence level is way higher. I walk into a room where my colleagues may be speaking French and they're so used to me coming in and they automatically switch to English and I can tell them, No, no, stay in French, I can follow and I can join in. And it's really good.
Isabelle: That's lovely. It feels so empowering, right, when we can say, No, no, I'm fine. Just stay in French, I can handle this. And how about with your family in ---? Are you able to also have the wholeconversation in French now?
Irene: Yes. Quite honestly, I can. It depends, of course, on how tired you are. When you get tired, your brain kind of drifts. But yeah, I can have whole conversation in French when we have the mother, the father, the grandmother, all around. I don't feel kind of like I want to go hide in the corner. I can stay part of the family, part of the situation that's going on.
And also I have two children, one that I moved here with. She was four when I moved here, so she's bilingual. And the other one, that's three. And so they're in all the conversations and they want me with them in the conversation. So I'm able to really be a part of what's going on, and that feels really good.
Isabelle: Oh, that's great. Do your children also speak French because they are in the public system here in Switzerland especially the youngest one? You said he is four. Is that correct?
Irene: She's three. And yes, she's in the crèche here, a public crèche. And yes, she speaks French because of her dad and because of the crèche. The older one, she started out in the public system and then we put her into a bilingual school for a while but she's lived longer in Switzerland than she had when she was in the US. So yes. So now she's fully bilingual as well. French and English.
Isabelle: Oh, that's so lovely. I also have two children, one who is three in the crèche system as well, and one who just started school, who's four. And I could see, you know, a lot of the parents who had recently moved here, who had been here for a long time, who couldn't really express themselves with the teachers.
For you, do you feel that with the help of Prêt à Parler, you're fully capable of expressing yourself if you have a questions to ask to the teachers or the educators? Do you feel confident enough to express yourself with them?
Irene: Yes, I can express myself with the teachers with no problem. I can even do things that I couldn't do before in French, which is like find a different way to say the same thing, which I couldn't do before. There was only one word I knew, but now I have many words I can try until I'm understood and it's good in the crèche.
It also helps with doctor's visits. You never know sometimes. You can have your main doctor, but if they're on holiday or if you need to go to the hospital, you want to know that you can communicate with whoever is dealing with you at a very serious time for you. You're nervous, you're scared, and you want to know that you understand. And so that's helped a lot with that, too.
Isabelle: Absolutely. So I would say the word is empowering. When you speak the language, you feel confident, you feel empowered.
Isabelle: We talked a little bit around the FIDE. Let's go back to the FIDE exam now. Do you remember... so, can you share with us one typical scenario question that you had at your FIDE exam, which might help the people who are listening to us right now?
Irene: So, they gave me a choice between travel and food when we were talking about the scenarios and I couldn't choose. So we made it into a kind of a scenario of traveling through food.
Isabelle: That's a good choice. A very good choice.
Irene: And so, I talked about how I had been to someplace in Southeast Asia. The food was there, some of the sights I saw, and it was a good experience.
Isabelle: Yeah. Did you feel prepared to answer that question because of the lesson that you took with Brice? Did you feel you had the right vocabulary because of that?
Irene: Yes, I absolutely had the right vocabulary because of Brice. We went through different scenarios of travel, of food, of pretty much any scenario they could have asked me about in the test or they did ask me about. I already had some words that we had tried or gotten ready to pull out of my brain for the situation. So I never --- you feel nervous going in, but I never felt overwhelmed or scared by anything they asked. I felt fully confident.
And it was kind of also empowering to work with Brice and realize that he had this confidence in me that I could do it, and then go to the test and be able to hear them speaking in French about me and look at them and say, Oh, they think I'm good too.
It was really good to know that I could understand and to hear kind of them discussing amongst themselves. So, it was amazing.
Isabelle: You felt supported by Brice, who was believing in you. And then when you arrived at the test, you could understand everything. You knew things ahead of time. You knew the format of the exam. You knew that, okay, no matter which question they will ask me, I've got the vocabulary for it. I've got the resources for it. So it felt good. It felt very positive. I'm so happy to hear that.
How did the preparation program that you did with Brice help you answer, and prepare, and feel strong and confident for the exam itself?
Irene: It helped me having practiced anywhere that I was weak. So you do the course to maybe learn that you don't conjugate well anymore and you work on that, or you can't think of certain words. And so, each lesson was focused on where I needed help or where I needed to work on more based on what I needed and what I wanted to develop.
And since it was also focused around the FIDE towards the end, it was on the scenarios that could be expected in the test. So everything led in a straight line towards the ultimate success, passing then.
Isabelle: Do you believe that having not done any private lessons beforehand, could have led to the same results? So having a successful FIDE exam for you personally?
Irene: No. I wouldn't have passed. Brice is really good. I got really anxious about halfway through the lessons that I just wasn't going to be able to do it. And so beyond being just a good teacher, he was a good person and he was able to be like, "No, no, no, calm down, it's okay. You can do this. Let's try this other thing."
You know, many people could have gotten very frustrated and been like, "No, okay, I don't want to work with you anymore." But that was never the feeling he gave. He was always like, "Okay, let's see how we can make this work. Let's see what you need." And I couldn't have felt comfortable talking to another person without the private lessons. It wouldn't have been tailored enough for me to actually get the information I needed to make sure I understood what was going on.
So for me, I think I would have definitely not passed the B1 spoken without having these these courses.
Isabelle: To support. So having the personalization of the private lessons, having the nurturing and the positive reinforcement or encouragement of Brice really made a difference for you in your own personal process when you prepared for the FIDE, is that correct?
Isabelle: Oh, that's lovely to hear. You know, when I founded Prêt à Parler, I really created the language school that I personally wanted when I learn foreign languages.
Because I come from Montreal and Canada, so my mother tongue is French, but I learned English by the fact of being Canadian. I also learned German and Italian. And every time I learnt a new language, I thought if I were the teacher, I would do it this way or that way.
And then when I built my own business, I just thought, we need to focus on speaking. This is the last thing that we focus on when we learn a language and it's the most important thing.
So I'm so glad to hear that the values that I try to put in the business are the ones that you've experienced when you did the lessons with Brice and in the preparation for the exam. It's so good for me to hear.
The experience, and it's what I needed too.
Isabelle: The human side of learning the language, not just the grammar, because French can become really, maybe not boring, but difficult. It can become quite difficult. And then when you have fun, when you have a nice teacher who can support you through the process, it's always more interesting and easier to remember.
Can you tell me, Irene, when and where did you pass your FIDE exam and what were the results?
Irene: Yes, I went to Ecole BER in Geneva. It was in Mid-July, I think it was the 19th. And so, I got the B1 spoken and I took the A2 level written and I got that as well. And the A2 level written, I got 100%.
So what they told me was actually I probably should have taken the B1 level. That was really good.
Isabelle: So now you're done. You've got your B1 oral, which means that you have the right level for the naturalization, you're covered. And the good news is that the FIDE certificate is good for life. So no need to do any more exams, just the preparation in the future for the interview when the right time comes and you're called to do the interview.
How does it feel now that this is behind you, Irene?
Irene: It feels good. There's like a weight off because it was kind of like a weight off my shoulders. It feels good. It feels empowering. It feels also like a... How do I say it? It sounds stupid, but having a test to say I can do what I already could do helps me to have more confidence to do it.
Isabelle: Absolutely. It's confirming that you've got this level. You were able to prepare for it, pass the exam. You are at that level. It feels good, right? We can say it feels good.
Irene, we've got a few people watching us, listening to your answers, listening to this podcast and this interview, wondering, should I take private lessons with Prêt à Parler? I'm not sure yet. Is the commitment worth it? Because it is a commitment when you register for the private lessons, when you commit to this language program.
What would you like to tell other expats who are currently hesitating to take our private lessons with us at Prêt à Parler?
Irene: I would say don't wait. It is so worth the time that you put in. You get all the support that you need and it's time for you to improve in the area that you've been wanting to improve, and you just need to take the time for yourself.
Isabelle: It's investing in yourself, right? Committing to yourself to feeling better in your everyday life. Especially, when the goal is to stay here in Switzerland, in the French speaking part on the long term. We might as well feel really confident, not just for the exam, but for the rest of our beautiful life here in the French speaking part.
So what's the next step for you then, Irene? What are you thinking about doing for continuing the improvement of your French conversation? What is your commitment to yourself for the future?
Irene: The commitment to myself is, I'm going to take more lessons so I can improve and have the confidence to pass the interview that's required for the naturalization exam and also put myself into more situations where I'm living, in French.
So maybe taking a yoga lesson or something where it's all French spoken. Well, before I'd hesitate to do that because I was afraid there would be too much I didn't understand. Now I have no reason to use that as an excuse not to try.
Isabelle: The French is there. It's just about daring to use it as much as you can, whenever you can as well. Well, I'm so glad to hear your story. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Irene.
Next week, we've got a beautiful celebration called the Back to French Party. We're celebrating with all the Prêt à Parler clients, the former, the current, and the future ones. We're inviting everybody to join us. We're going to have an evening with some of our teachers who will be there. And we're going to share some --- and have some wine.
We're celebrating La Fête des Vendanges at the same time, which is the harvesting season for the wine. It's on the 24th of September, next Saturday. Are you available to join us, Irene?
Irene: I am, and I'm putting it in my calendar now.
Isabelle: Very nice. We're sending all the invitation today. And as one of our valued customers, we have a little discount for you. So check your email. There will be a little discount so you can join us for almost for free, to be able to partake in the celebration. And I really look forward to meeting you in person next Saturday, then I'm looking forward to it. Merci beaucoup
Irene: Merci. Au revoir.