Manu is a busy professional who needed to prepare for his Permis C in three months' time. He has completed his 10th year in Switzerland and overall, his goal was to get A2 written and A2 oral as a result.

Your Super Prof Sandra and the whole Prêt à Parler are super proud of your achievement! Toutes nos félicitations, Manu!

Here is what he has to say about his experience learning online and preparing for his FIDE exam with us:

"I had a great experience with regards to preparing for the French Fide exam in Switzerland. I would especially like to thank Sandra, my professor! Her approach worked very well for me as she made sure I focus on learning by doing. She tailored the course material according to my needs. Sandra found a good balance between helping me improve my overall French language skills and preparing specifically for FIDE Exam. Thanks once again to Sandra and Prêt à Parler team!"

Isabelle: We're going to switch to English because not everybody understands or is at the right level yet to understand what we're saying in French. How long have you been studying French for, Manu?

Manu: So, I took the 20 course Prêt à Parler FIDE exam specific, and basically I studied more or less November end, and I planned my 20 classes to finish by March end. So I spread it over like almost 3 months, because there were Christmas holidays and all so I would say one class a week, sometimes two, and sometimes a small break, so yeah.

Isabelle: But you had never learned French before contacting Prêt à Parler, no you did some lessons before.

Manu: No, formally never.

Isabelle: I am very impressed because your pronunciation is very good. Very very good, you can really pat yourself on the back, we can hear you really well, and what I find is fantastic is your level of confidence, as I was saying before. And this is the key when you speak a foreign language.

Manu: I agree. You cannot feel ashamed that you don't know exact...

Isabelle: Exactly, exactly, and you know, I'm from Montreal in Canada, I have an accent, when I speak English nobody really knows "where is she from?" They don't know. If I speak German sometimes they're like "oh there's a French accent somewhere." Italian, they could hear that as well. If I speak French I can change if it's the Quebec French or the more international French. Well, when I hear you speak French I could not tell that you are from India, if you were on the phone with me, I wouldn't know. Not at all. So, well done, you've got musical ear for the French language. Bravo, vraiment, c'est tres bon.

Manu: Merci.

Isabelle: I find it so interesting, because you know I love love love the pronunciation. I'm actually going to start teaching again, this is a little scoop I'm giving you. I'm going to give pronunciation bootcamps very soon, because I'm an opera singer, did you know Manu?

So when I started, I actually did all my studies in Montreal at McGill University, and I did opera and languages, I loved both. And this is why I'm always interested when I hear people speak French in the music that they produce, you know, in the pronunciation, so maybe we'll have to talk about that on another podcast.

So let's talk about FIDE, tell me Manu, why did you have to pass your FIDE exam?

Manu: So my reason was very specific that I was finishing my ten years in Switzerland, and I thought it's better to finish it now than after 10 years. If you are non-EU you need A2 oral and A1 written but I did some written exams, mock, so I was very comfortable with that, I should get easily, but of course, you can always do better. So that's why I thought let's do it now so that by the time I finish it's not long after you know when I finish 10 years. 

So I thought time is now, I'm motivated, so better to finish it now, and then I have so then I have enough time to think about whether I want to go towards naturalisation.

Isabelle: So I want to remind everybody that within 3 months you prepared for the FIDE A2 that's correct?

Manu: Yes, absolutely.

Isabelle: So you had to learn basically everything. I wanted to ask you what were the key
learning points you needed to improve, but it was really getting from zero to A2 in the private lessons.

Manu: I think I would say three things. First, I knew a little French but was unpolished, for example I will know exactly how to say "Je voudrais réservation, taxi..." cos you use it in a daily basis. But then for Sandra, my professor, this was very good, but then I will not even know something very basic. Because as I said my learning was purely based on my needs, so there were very limited that I will make some very silly mistakes, and certainly I will know something which you should know already at A2.

So that was one reason to be bit more polished about the French. Second I think it was grammar specifically, cos then you'll know, it's difficult to get the grammar right specifically past tense, you know, it's not at all easy for English speaker like me because of many different reasons.

So the second reason, cos I understood that for A2 you really need to showcase that you have a skill for past tense and I saw in the exam also. So Sandra really prepared me well. You need to show them, you need to find them and to show them that you know past tense.

And third I think it's more about being in a mindset that you, that you... so what we did maybe I'm answering your next question, but what we did is that in the 20 classes I was always from the beginning me and Sandra had very open communication how we need to make sure that we balance theory and practice. So by the 12th class we more or less covered the theory so then the 8 classes were really about going through the motion of the exam situations.

Adding that was very very helpful cos it really makes you prepare before the class, and you really can practice in the class, you speak a lot, you just don't discuss theory and you find your mistakes which I fully remember when I was giving the exam. You know, you remember exactly where you will go wrong with masculine/feminin or un/une, so I was very prepared in that sense, yeah.

So the target was to get more in the mindset of the exam.

Isabelle: Yes. And you could avoid all the traps and the little catches because you had prepared before. Sandra had told you - oh here be careful, remember this and that, and so probably, knowing that you are efficient-focused, you wanted within 3 months you were really able to really focus in 12 lessons with Sandra on the essentials, and then afterwards focus on the FIDE scenarios, preparing, avoiding all the catches and the traps.

Manu: You also kill the surprise element, you know, like usually people know everything, but the exam makes people very surprised. And I wanted to kill the surprise, I should really feel that I'm doing another class.

Isabelle: Exactly. So it's not as stressful. Of course having to pass an exam always brings its level of stress but when you're prepared for it, you know what will be more or less in the exam, there's much less stress, and it feels like, ok I'm going to a French class, there's a bit of stress, but I know I can do this.

Manu: It should be okay. So that confidence you always carry if I manage not to make some silly mistakes, and there's no surprise the preparation was good, I would say.

Isabelle: Mhm, okay, wonderful, wonderful. Can you tell me what your mother tongue is? Cos I know that in India there are many many dialects.

Manu: So in India where I grew up we spoke 3 languages, or we learned, and all 3 are different scripts. So that's important, people may not know. So when I say I know English, Hindi and Punjabi, it's not like European languages where it's more or less the root is same, you're using English alphabet. In all 3 languages there are different alphabets. So I knew three languages, and you can say all three are kind of neat. When you are Indian English is very neat if you start speaking when you are in second grade, first grade kind of a very good English, you know. There's a pressure to be immaculate, very quickly.

Isabelle: So knowing that your mother tongues are English, Punjabi and Hindi, when you first started learning French, did you consider it a challenging language, what was your rapport to the language when you started?

Manu: I think, given my goal was not to become like I can do everything in French, I knew also because I lived there a bit, and you know, you do speak, I was not that worried. To be very honest. I think for me the main challenge was a bit of pronunciation. The pronunciation, I was very careful and Sandra really kind of also pointed that out, I didn't wanted that I was saying something right, but still people are not getting me.

Yeah, so for me that was more important. The challenge part was which I would say everybody may tell you is masculine/feminin in French. It is still the challenge, I won't say I still know it 100%, but I think you still need to find the confidence to get around it. The rest I think was very, I think this is why you take the classes, to be very frank. Cos you just want to be in a zone. So that you can cut the noise, cos there's so much noise when you're learning something. So you just want to make sure that okay, there is, languages are amazing there's so much to learn, you can never say you know enough, but my focus right now is to learn this much. And I think that takes the stress and the challenge of it also.

Isabelle: It is such a good way to explain it, because you know, I'm gonna tell you a secret and it won't be a secret anymore. Most French speakers don't master their language. The French language is so complex, and I think it's probably for any language, we don't know all the rules, we make mistakes, we don't know all the vocabulary there is in a dictionary. So when you say you focus on what's the most important for you, it's exactly that.

It's exactly that, and I think that as an expat, or as a non-Swiss resident of Switzerland what we need with French is just the first, the minimum to get by, and then we build on that. And then we start having fun and being a bit closer to our own personality, and making jokes and that kind of thing.

Um, this is so interesting. Thank you so much Manu, I love to hear your opinion on how it was for you to learn French. Can you tell me what was the reason you reached out to us, to Prêt à Parler, to prepare for the FIDE exam?

Manu: I think as I was... I think for me, you have this webinar which is open for everyone. I think when I went to the webinar I think it was very easy decision that this is the approach I wanted. So for me the decision came very quick that end of the day I will not do this preparation in time, I don't have that patience or energy. So I though I go with what I felt is best suited for me.

So that's why I thought if the approach is very specific to FIDE exam, it's not about learn everything on French and then it is 20 classes, I thought when I kind of did my first class with Sandra you know, cos you allow one class where you can kind of a demo, where you check a bit where we are, so with Sandra we more or less agreed that 20 should be, it's not enough-enough but, we can push and 20 could be enough to reach a level where, and also end of the day, if I can say so, Prêt à Parler can do a lot for you, but end of the day if you will just go to the classes and do the class and then do nothing I don't think you will pass, I'm sorry to say. I think it's a collaboration and you need to be also invested in the process, otherwise, it's easy to say -oh I did the class but I didn't get it because you know, there was an issue with you or any other institute.

But end of the day it's a mutual collaboration. So you need to be very clear with you need to invest also I must say yes, couple of weeks I was you know when you're a bit tired with work but also you know that I will go to the class, so I cannot... it's kind of a self-accountability. You can't go to the class if Sandra has told you to do certain things it's good for me to do because otherwise we're not respecting the mutual consent, you know, that we will both invest in it.

Isabelle: Absolutely, this is a commitment. When you invest in a language program, especially in private lessons because there's a real investment, to get a return on your investment you need to commit to it, and to attend your lessons, and to work outside as well, to make the work outside the class, because we can offer the best language program we can, have the best teachers, but if you don't do the work after that then it's not going to happen. And you did the work, so give yourself a pat on the back for that, you did, and you did that within three months, that's amazing!

You passed the FIDE exam on the 9th of April 2022, so very very recently, could you please share with our subscribers one typical scenario question that you did at the FIDE?

Manu: So in the FIDE exam the scenario I got was it's something actually we prepared a lot and luckily I got the same and Sandra told me, you know, this is something that comes up a lot. We prepared something the day before. I mean it's not exactly the same but something like that which is you have a parent and you have a child and you kind of need to figure it out, the child for some reason is not happy.

And then it's just a conversation. It was tad simple, it was a table and a couple of chairs, and the parent was on the phone and the child was unhappy, you just need to start describing the situation and then it depends on the person in front of you what kind of direction they will take you in. But whatever direction they took I would say 80% we practiced the situations, it was not a surprise 80% of it. So I think that's what made the huge difference, cos I think there was certain level of precision in my answers, so there was no confusion whether I am almost, cos I know a lot of people who missed A2 or B1 by 2-3%, so you're never like far behind, there is something that needs to happen to cross the bridge.

I think the practice allows you to do that. Otherwise you can be very close, like imagine if you need for A2 65% on a scale, you may be at 63%, you'll be at 62%, it won't be like you're at 10%. So I think this precision practice allows you to very quickly go so I could feel when they were talking to me they didn't even need to think whether I was A2 or not, it was pretty like B1, A2 - c'est bon, c'est bon. So you could feel that precision allows the process to be very smooth. 

Isabelle: In Prêt à Parler with all our teachers we know what the typical scenarios are, we know how the examiner will evaluate you, and that's why we prepare you exactly, okay, there won't be any confusion here, you know what to expect. And this is so interesting because we spoke before, I know that you do not have children yet with your partner but they gave you this scenario which is about a child which has nothing to do with your own life, so if you don't know what to answer because it's not your situation...

Manu: It's funny you say that cos when we did like 8-9 scenarios this is by far the most difficult also cos what you just said, it's very you don't use it at all in a daily basis. So that's why I really practiced it a lot. Maybe you can say I was a bit lucky, or you can say I really made sure if I get lucky I'll nail it.

Isabelle: Exactly! You had prepared for any situation because you had practiced it with Sandra beforehand, right?

Manu: Yeah, and then I doubled down on my own cos Sandra told me like you know, this child one, in many different can come so I really made sure I double down on vocabulary you know, and other things.

Isabelle: Do you believe that you could've answered that question without the preparation you had done with Sandra?

Manu: No no, meaning, it would be very difficult. So first of all, my one thing is very clear, nobody needs A1 cos it doesn't help you to get C-permit or passport. And A1 is the only level that you can probably do on your own. Anything above A2, specifically with FIDE, I think you really need precision classes like I did with Sandra. I think without that you're just... I think it can demotivate you. Cos you can do a lot of learning on your own and then even if you know enough you may not know the exam answering in a certain sense of the ...

So for example in the scenario afterwards they will ask you questions where you'll get the opportunity to show you know future tense, you know past tense and all. Now you may know enough, but if you didn't practice very specifically how to frame those answers, your practice won't help you enough, so we for example we practiced specifically passé, imparfait, compose to really show that I know both. We even practiced that.

Isabelle: So you knew you were given the exact tools that you needed, that you could use during the exam, you knew - okay, this question I know what to do, I have the tools and I can nail this question.

Manu: Yeah, and I think this is what preparation is, like you cannot memorize beyond a point, right? So you need to more understand the skeleton, the approaches, and then it's your smartness how do you mix it up to create what you want to create.

And also keep the confidence that you will not know everything but don't worry if you can't answer something. You can move on and you can answer everything else. You don't, it's not like you need to answer everything right. That's what I also learned. Don't stress over what you don't know and you can just, you know, it's okay.

Isabelle: Absolutely, you said something really important, preparing a text and learning it by heart doesn't work.

Manu: No, no, it's not gonna help.

Isabelle: It's not gonna help and the examiner will know that you're just reciting a text and they don't wanna see that, they want to see are you spontaneous, are you able to express yourself without having prepared or learned the text by heart.

Manu: And also one thing I saw with my preparation is you end up focusing too much on speaking, while in the exam it's more hearing what they're asking. Cos you can speak very nice French, but if you didn't get the question...

Isabelle: What are you going to do? 

Manu: Your whole situation, cos in that situation they can ask you many different things. So you need to be very very careful in hearing, and this is again, the more practice you do, you also realise end of the day, people can't ask you a question in 50 different ways. So you start getting, even if you don't know the full question, you know enough with your practice to, okay they're asking me, more or less, this. This is what a practice to an exam helps also. 

Isabelle: Absolutely! And it's so interesting because since you've done the A0 to A2 within 3 months, you had to really focus on the essentials. You knew how to really focus on the essentials because if someone asks you something you don't get 25 or 30% of what they said, but you still have the 75%, and that's what you focus on and then you do your best with whatever you understood from the question, whatever vocabulary that you have in your backpack, and just try your best to let go and be as confident.

Manu: And one advice I would give also is whenever we prepared situations in homework I used to write a lot. So it was not in your mind you keep practicing, so I think it's, cos Sandra asked me do you have somebody with whom you can talk? I said no, it's very difficult, so she said why don't you talk to yourself, and you only talk to yourself when you write cos then you can check. So I think writing also helped a lot that you figure it out when you're writing on your own, and then you check what you wrote, I think that helps you to have certain level of discipline in your preparation cos you start observing trends.

Cos end of the day, je voudrais, je voudrais, but you can use it in many different ways or you know, like, avoir, je pense, there a lot of these words that allow you to showcase and find a lot of connectors, for example so a lot of these things I think it's purely yeah writing helps, at least to me writing really helped.

Isabelle: It's a good connector to see it's as if you process everything when you write it down. And the good thing when you do online learning as well when you do the private lessons on Zoom is that you have all the senses which are stimulated - you listen, you speak, you also look at the screen and you also hear it at the same time, and you write. So having this combination really helps to integrate even more, even deeper the new knowledge that you're learning, the new knowledge that you're acquiring and than writing it down lets you process it even more.

We have two last question. Where and when did you pass the FIDE exam, and what were the results?

Manu: On 9th April and I got the results that I was preparing for. So I got A2 on both oral and written. On oral I got 85% and on written I got 100%.

Isabelle: Congratulations Manu, this is amazing. Within three months to have reached this level, this is fantastic, really.

Manu: The 100% was a bit of a surprise, I was expecting 94-95%, but 100% was a bit of a surprise.

Isabelle: A nice surprise I hope!

Manu: End of the day you just need to pass for passport, I mean for your Permit C, but you just feel good if you get 100% in anything. I think you feel good.

Isabelle: Absolutely, you deserve a big bottle of champagne, don't you think? If you like champagne, it could be something else. I want to say how much of a success story your story is. Congratulations Manu. Hearing your story and in order to inspire other French learners to really prepare for success can you tell me what would you like to tell other expats or non-Swiss residents living in Switzerland who are hesitating to take online private lessons with us what would you like to tell them?

Manu: I think for me, have your goal really clear if you want to, if you're a bit like not sure that it can take a lot of time and all that, I think the FIDE prep course of Prêt à Parler is for you cos you can choose to you can define the time, like 5, 20, you know, all these classes so I think you can tailor and build on it.

Second I think what you said, you don't need to learn all the French in one day you can start by saying let me go towards A1, and then I'll be learning for A2 and then I go to B1 just defining your rules and what are your targets will help you also whether you need a passport, whether you need Permis C.

What I think for me, what I really want to say and which I didn't get the opportunity during our conversation I think the ability to select the professor like what I did with Sandra and luckily I did a class with her and I found it and I think for me that is really for me, I would say working with Sandra was absolute pleasure.

Cos I think she really understands that why I'm doing it, this is not fun, to be honest, and as a hobby, doing something tedious, and I think she and it's frustrating sometimes cos you don't even get something basic, it's not like she was there to sugarcoat, she challenged me many times she told me many times you're not going to the level that you need to, so you need to work hard so I think there's a good balance it was very customized, and yeah, we connected very and I knew she had the best interest of mine, she's not to bring a class for the sake of bring a class, so yeah I just also want to tell like I don't know if Prêt à Parler allows it, but I think it's good for students if one professor is right, one is not you need to find a connection, because otherwise it becomes very mechanical.

So I think that it's important that you can talk and then sometimes we spoke about French and I like Sandra, just to give an example, every class she started asking about what did you do, so you talk a bit about your life and all, and you know you feel you are talking kind of with the professor but who is not here just to tick the box.

Isabelle: Exactly. It's almost like a friend, a coach, it's a language companion I would say.

Manu: And for me it's also like, at the end of the day return of the investment like you said it's very clear I think I can guarantee if you are serious about going to classes and of course...

I think if you invest diligently in 20 classes over a couple of months I do feel you can be rest assured that you can get, of course somebody will get 90, sombody will get 80, but at the end of the day your goal is to pass and feel comfortable that you did it. And I think that is much better as you said, it's an investment because it's a private class I would say you need to calculate your choice cos we all know there are two choices, Prêt à Parler, specific private lessons, FIDE or you go to some place. Oh and one for Prêt à Parler is I could schedule my own classes as for my timeline, and we could even cancel sometime unfortunately 24 hours before.

But some of my friends and I'm not saying it's wrong but for some people if they commit to one place where you have to go every Thursday it becomes sometimes difficult in current life system if you're working so I think it's also advantageous for people who who know they cannot commit to every week, same day, same time so I think that really helped for me, that we could really always we did some classes at 9 AM, you know, I'm free, exactly those things really helped me also, and i would say to everybody you, at least i can maybe say I I would not have been able to do it again.

You should do enough research and I'd rather invest more and get the job done then try to... When I say invest I say both money and time rather than elongating the whole process and maybe spending a bit less, but then feel I'm not doing the best thing. So for me this is why I'm, I want to be very motivated and to get things done.

So yeah, that's my recommendation. Choose the right, connect with the professor, invest, take the decision where you know you're gonna invest it's not like, it's not a recipe, that, take 20 classes and you are done, you need to work hard and be confident, I think confidence is also the key, you need to be very confident that you will speak, it's a matter of time you will speak.

Isabelle: You need to let go, you need to dare, to speak and to make mistakes and you need to just go for it, to commit to it. I love that you talked about the flexibility. I love that you talked about the relationship with the teacher. I really believe cos I stopped teaching for about 4 years and when I started Prêt à Parler it was only me teaching with all my clients.

And I really believe the teacher makes all the difference if you love working with someone you will learn. If you don't like what you're learning and you don't like the person who teaches you, you're not going to learn and you're will have kind of bad feeling to the language because we know in the past some people came to us and they said I don't like French but I need to prepare for the FIDE and I have to do it and when they finished and they passed the exam they said actually I really enjoyed learning French.

So it makes such a difference who you learn with and how you learn it. So we really try to adapt to your learning style, for some people they have to be really methodical and really organized, and others they want to talk and that's how they learn, they need to talk and then the grammar is integrated, some others they need a combination like you of the e-learning, the French Toolbox, with the private lessons.

So I think that the difference between Prêt à Parler and maybe other language schools is that we really adapt. We try our best to adapt to your learning style, your specific learning style.

Manu: Yeah, and I think that's why you should, why people probably should also invest. It's one time investment, better to make it smart.

Isabelle: Exactly, it's a long lasting investment, you invest in it, but it will stay afterwards, it will be in you like riding a bike, it never goes away. Thank you so much for your time Manu, that was such a pleasure to speak with you.

Manu: Thanks to you, I'm already happy I applied for my Permit C so I'm moving smoothly.

Isabelle: Let us know when you receive it and we wish you all the best for the next part, the next few years we hope you'll feel more and more comfortable in French more and more, you'll dare to speak more French every day now that it's there, 10 years in the country now the world is your oyster the francophone countries you can visit now the covid is over and you can practice your French this summer and in the future as well.

Manu: Merci, merci Isabelle. And yeah, I'm pretty happy that after long time, you know you prepare for something specific and you achieve it it's a good motivation to now do something else.

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