Language Assistant Programme
If you’re looking for a way to immerse yourself in French language and culture then a homestay programme as a language assistant might be for you. This is my review of my month that I spent with a family in Grabels, a village just north of Montpellier. The programme is by Aliore.
I was prepared for my “life-project” of learning a new language to kick on to the next level. I had been learning French by myself on and off for the last year without ever really speaking. Having read the articles of Benny AKA The Irish Polyglot I knew the only way to improve was to start speaking. Full of motivation but also fear, I wanted to be in an alien environment. No half-measures. It would hopefully force me to speak French regularly and thus gain confidence.
I’ll be honest, the teaching part did not really interest me, but I wanted to challenge myself. “Being in a family environment is not like being in a classroom full of students.” I thought, “So, it won’t be so bad.”. And I was right. I found the right activity which would put me outside my comfort zone but would not render me frozen with fear. I was also afraid I’d be no good at teaching, so I stocked up on lots of resources. Games, songs, a couple of books, and an interactive CD-ROM.
The language assistant programme itself is run by Aliore, in particular Soizick Chartier from Montpellier. Although they offer placements all over France I was drawn to the south of France as it was summer time. Also I felt I’d have better support the closer I was to the company.
Here are the costs:
- 4 weeks = 390€
- 8 weeks = 490€
- 12 weeks = 590€
For your money you get room and board and food. Wow, the food! The host family pays nothing to Aliore. 15 hours is recommended minimum amount of time helping the child/children with their English. I was assigned a family with a 5 year old boy and 7 year old girl.
The same programme is offered through Real Gap, an American company for nearly 3 times the price as direct with Aliore. You are covering the cost of 2 companies. Once on the ground in France you will communicate with Aliore directly and will wonder why on earth you spent all that money.
How did it work?
I made sure I was available for some time in the afternoons to be with the children. Very quickly it turned out that they would be tired after school and not want to study. I would leave it up to the parents to decide how long they’d spend with me. Often the most I’d get from them would be to enjoy repeating colours and common words to me. I think it was important to the parents just to have an English speaker around.
With older children the 15 hours would more likely have been enforced.
In the evenings and even lunch times there’d be amazing food, and homegrown wine aplenty at the table. Along with fantastic weather for the whole month and beyond.
The time you aren’t spending with the children is yours. I would explore the city, the local area, and work on some freelance projects.
The family and home
I was placed within a musical family, in a good sized detached house in the town of Grabels. They had their own mini-allotment in their front garden, growing lemons, carrots, and other vegetables. The city of Montpellier was around 8km away and accessible by bus once every hour. Or by bike.
- I spoke more French than I had done in my first month in Paris.
- Repeatedly hearing simple French from the children helped me absorb it.
- Foooooood. Particularly the bread and the wine!
- I enjoyed being around the children and the family were very loving.
- I conquered a fear and spoke to a class full of kids, even sang in front of them! Old MacDonald was a favourite.
- Was able to visit numerous small towns with the family that I’d otherwise not think of.
- Realised that you can’t really “teach” a 5 year old that doesn’t want to be taught.
- Soizick from Aliore is very attentive if you need help. Essentially you’re on your own.
- Discovered a new favourite city (Montpellier).
- For such a small town there was a lot going on!
The not so good
- I gave in to the struggle and spoke English a lot in the house.
- The location meant I couldn’t always venture into the city. There was 1 bus every hour.
- I think I could have been assigned a family with interests more similar to my own. However, I approved the first one offered.
This programme eased me further into France and speaking French by allowing me to focus solely on day to day life. I did not have to worry about finding somewhere to live as it was taken care of. It’s important to remember you’ll be living with a family and sharing goes both ways. You’re there for at least a month so I think it’s important to be present and willing to be part of the family. Don’t worry if things don’t go as smoothly as you’ve imagined. Be prepared before you arrive, and regularly talk to the parents about how it’s going.
If you’re looking to gain teaching experience for a future course then this will be good for you as you can request to be placed with a family with children of a specific age range. That future course may be a TEFL qualification, one great way to facilitate a location independent career :).