Expert Feature: Bonjour from Ann Bayliss!

EvolvEd intern Annie Wang sits down for a conversation with French expert Ann Bayliss. Ann is a trained instructor who has spent years learning and teaching French, having lived with a French family and taught English in France. She has an M.A. in French Language and Culture from the University of Maryland.

AW: How has your personal interest developed in French?

AB: My main interest in French (in addition to the fact that it sounds nice) was that I was very struck by the differences in French film when I was younger. I noticed such a difference in the way the plots, characters, pacing, and atmosphere worked, and that was the start of a realization that there were different cultures out there. 

AW: Would you say you have a favorite French film?

AB: My favorite film is a short one – L’heure Bleue – “The Blue Hour.” I think it’s from the first days of color. It’s about an artist and her friend. It was just remarkable to me. It represented an innovation in cinema at the time as well. 

AW: When did you start learning French?

AB: I started officially taking French in third grade in school, but my mom says she played French music for my family when I was really little, and I loved it. The minute I heard French songs I apparently got really excited about them. I started getting into French very early on.

AW: What do you think was the hardest part of learning French as a language?

AB:  I think the hardest part about learning the French language is that there aren’t a lot of places to practice it. I think that’s the biggest challenge. Other than that, I think it’s an easy language for English speakers to learn because there are so many cognates and so much grammar and syntax are pretty similar. 

AW: Yeah, I think the hardest part about learning any language is the immersion aspect. It’s not the same when you’re just talking in that language for an hour in a class a day. 

AB: Yeah it really is. 

AW: With the immersion piece, EvolvEd is helpful to connect you with students and help them with conversation practice. Do you see the platform being helpful in other ways?

AB: I see it as both a platform for continued exposure to the language and also just standard regular teaching in which you can use some English to explain concepts or talk about grammar. With a student who was a beginner, you would proceed with a normal class. But, yes, I think EvolvEd does lend itself to accessing whatever resources are on the internet, so YouTube, watching French news or French movies, even finding a chatroom to find a speaking partner. If you’re already using EvolvEd, you’re probably pretty sophisticated about how to connect with those resources to help you interact with native speakers and the actual French-speaking world. 

AW: Also, with the one-on-one model on EvolvEd, you’re really able to meet students where they are instead of being in one setting where there are twenty different students that you have to accommodate for all at the same time. 

AB: Definitely. You could cover a lot more territory, you can really pinpoint and tailor to your students’ needs. 

AW: What do you like about the EvolvEd platform? Could you tell me a little bit about how you came across EvolvEd and what about it appealed to you?

AB: I was actually reconnecting with some people I knew from college. I went to Vassar but I graduated in ‘98 so I hadn’t seen some people in many years. I told one of them I was a freelancer and I was always looking for new opportunities, and he said, “Oh wow, you need to connect with Ben [Horst]!” and it turns out that although Ben doesn’t remember me, we were actually in the same dorm when he was a freshman and I was a sophomore. Anyway, my friend contacted Ben and he’s just one of those people who’s just super fun to work with, so that was encouraging. The community aspect is my favorite part. I’ve actually been very reluctant to engage in online education – I’ve had other opportunities and I’ve turned them all down. But I really like the community aspect where you can follow other instructors to see what they’re doing. They can be really creative, and you can observe their self-marketing strategies. You can encourage them, they can encourage you. So it’s very interactive, I love that part about it. It feels like real people are there, and that means a lot to people who are stranded, otherwise isolated during the crisis. And the other thing I like about it is just the way the platform looks and it enables you to use different mediums or blogging or anything. 

AW: What successes and challenges from your educational experience have shaped your approaches to teaching and learning?

AB: As a student, I think I was very privileged to be in small classes growing up. We would have like a max of 16 in a French language class. Learning the language wasn’t difficult at all; it was fun and effortless. And then I grew up and became a public school language teacher and I was just shocked because there would be at least 29 students in a class, you’d have five different classes with levels 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, and that means the teaching quality is bound to suffer because you don’t have 13 hours every day to spend on your job. You can’t address all of your students’ needs, and some students fall extremely behind because of socioeconomics. I kind of felt like “this is pointless.” If I was a parent and saw that, I would definitely take advantage of something like EvolvEd, not because students couldn’t do that work on their own but because it’s not possible with the ways things are being run. That’s the thing with the teaching environment – it has to be propitious for each person to learn. 

Another challenge I see as a language person is that we’re not using our language nearly as much as we used to because now we’re typing a lot. I sometimes wonder if the communal meal will go by the wayside or even conversation will go by the wayside, and I feel like it’s much less motivating to learn to converse if you never do. 

AW: I think that’s really relevant in this time with zoom fatigue because our brains have to work so much harder without body language cues and context, and there’s only so much attention we can give in interactions across the screen that have broken up our normal modes of communicating. A lot of people have been talking about how they won’t know how to socialize post-quarantine. 

Do you have any specific pieces of advice for students learning new subjects in this time?

AB: I would say keeping a little notebook and setting your goals before you start your lessons so you can keep your focus and get a sense of accomplishment. You also don’t want to work yourself too hard. You set a goal, you meet a goal, you take a break. Keep a record, be happy would be my advice. What about you? 

AW: It would be along similar lines of making realistic expectations because I’ve seen a lot of conflicting advice online, where one side is telling people to take advantage of the time and do things they don’t normally get to do, learn new skills, make yourself marketable – which is true to a certain extent – but the other side says that people shouldn’t be expected to be productive in such anxious and uncertain times. I think there’s validity on both sides. But I think it’s good to find that balance where you’re still stimulating your brain but not working yourself too hard. I think creative projects have been really helpful. 

AW: My last question is, what superpower would you want to have?

AB: I would say I may have superpowers but I am not at liberty to discuss them. 

Learn foundational, intermediate, and advanced French with Ann at evolved.live

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