Building linguistic bridges

Indian assistants are popular say embassy authorities, because of their ease with English-medium education and competence in French.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“I remember children asking if we had elephants walking on the roads. They were surprised to know that I lived in an apartment,” recalls Carolyn Davies, a Bengaluru-based social media professional, who is one of the 214 youngsters to have left for France to be posted as English Language Assistants in primary, secondary and higher secondary schools there.

This group is part of the historic Assistant d’Anglais (English Language Assistants) programme launched 115 years ago by France’s Education Ministry to expose its school students to foreign languages and cultures through native speakers. With partnerships in 64 countries to fill up at least 4,500 language assistant positions in France, the programme operates in India under the auspices of the Embassy of France/Institut Francais.

Indian assistants are popular say embassy authorities, because of their ease with English-medium education and competence in French. Fatiha Kammoussi, Attaché for Cooperation in Language and Education at the French Embassy in Delhi, says that Indian assistants are popular because of their attention to students’ needs.

“Schools either renew the contracts of Indian Assistants or ask specifically for them whenever there is a new posting. In 2015, there were 42 candidates from India; this year, it is 214. Four of the last session’s language assistants were recruited as English lecturers by prestigious French universities.”

The programme did not stop during the pandemic-induced lockdown. “Last year, when the French Government laid out detailed guidelines to assist the candidates with visas, we saw the entire Indian batch go to France. Some of the Indian assistants have decided to pursue higher studies in France and some have found a full-time job,” says Kammoussi.

With assistants required to work just 12 hours a week, their schedule is quite relaxed compared to that of regular teachers. “On my first day, I was taken into different classes to introduce myself. The children asked me questions about myself and life in India. We did it in English and French,” says Davies who worked at Lycée François Rabelais in Ifs and Collège Dunois in Caen, Normandy, last year.

The programme also gives Language Assistants an opportunity to explore France at their own pace. Delhi-based Gaurishma Suneja, who shifted from medical studies to learning and then teaching French, says, “I was posted in Lille, the capital of Hauts-de-France region. I had spent 15 days in France as an exchange student in 2012 but could not visit Lille then, so I opted for it this time.”

With classroom seating arranged like a conference table, students were always facing each other, says Gaurishma. “So classes were always more of an interaction than a presentation. When I started, many children did not know where India was. I think this is the main objective of the programme: to show the diversity of India to France.”

Living with a host family also helped to polish her own French communication skills. “Even though I have a C1 certification in French, when I first started, I could not understand anything that was being spoken here,” she recalls.

A former freelance online French tutor, Jeevashree Bannerjee from Delhi says the programme offered a chance to test her teaching skills in a physical classroom. She has been appointed at the Ecole Primaire Les Montagniers, a primary school in the Franco-Swiss border town of Bellegarde Sur Valserine.

“As per our contract, we are going there to teach French kids a language that they hardly know. But since I have always been very passionate about French, this is an opportunity to know the culture and discover more about a country that I have heard my tutors talking about for so long,” she says.

Programme details

The seven-month programme (October to April) is open to students (up to 35 years) of Indian universities /Alliance Française who are proficient in both English and French.

They should either have a degree or be in the final year of a Bachelor’s course and have an IELTS Certificate of Proficiency with a grade above 7.5.

Candidates should have a good level of French, with French B1 minimum (DFP, DELF, TCF, TEF, etc.) or B.A. in French from an Indian university.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 6:47:02 PM |

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