Deborah Maire - Reservations Manager & French Teacher
Debs was born in the suburbs of Paris to French and English parents and was lucky to grow up in a bicultural environment. She then moved to England as an adult to discover more about her “other culture”. Debs lived there for 12 years working for language and travel companies before deciding to come back to France and discover a new region, the Alps. Debs has been working with Alpine French School for four years, first as a teacher and now as a reservations manager.
You are originally from Paris, but spent 12 years living in England, why do you feel learning the French language is so important?
I think people are passionate about the French language around the world because France projects this image of a passionate, romantic, and cultural country, and speaking French means you become part of this. I met a lot of people in England who were dreaming of going to France to live the French way and when they tried out their French with me, their whole body was changing and they were becoming French in their heads. French might not be the most spoken language in the world, but it’s certainly one of the most empowering ones.
What does an average day look like as a French Teacher with Alpine French Schools?
Well, it’s never the same! In the mornings, teachers either have private lessons, teachers meetings, or preparation time to get ready for the week. Lunchtime is an important time as you can exchange anecdotes and situations you’ve encountered, so you can get other teachers’ advice and experiences. This helps constantly evolving as a teacher.
In the afternoons, we have our intensive courses. These courses take a lot out of you as a teacher, but you also get so much as you follow the same students everyday for a week if not more, and you end up getting attached to the mechanics of the group. And after all this, things calm down and you can end up having a drink with the students or doing a conversation workshop with them, a nice way to wind down!
You recently took on the role as Reservations Manager. What are the most frequently asked questions you get from interested students?
Aside from the usual pricing and availability questions, the main question that seems to be on everyone’s mind is the age of other students within the school and in their shared accommodation. Some people seem worried about being with younger people, thinking they will be in a youth hostel scenario. But when they get here, they realize that we have high-standard accommodations, but also that everyone wants the same thing: to progress in French and enjoy what the mountain has to offer, and this puts everyone on the same wavelength. Other than that, I get a lot of questions about the activities we offer, as people seem surprised we can offer activities as varied as skiing, cross-country, mountain biking, themed hikes, or even watersports alongside their French course.
You’ve been a French Teacher with Alpine French Schools for about four years, what has been your most memorable teaching moment?
The best moments for me were always when my student would suddenly “get it” and the huge grin saying “Hey, I’m speaking French!” You feel like a proud mum at that point! But, if I had to choose specific moments, it’s when students of the same nationalities decide to only speak French amongst themselves. They enjoy it so much that they don’t want to stop and that is an amazing feeling!
What sets Alpine French Schools apart from the many other French language schools out there?
I think all schools want to be different, but for us it’s the setting we live in that makes it really special. Thanks to that, we can offer a unique opportunity to combine French learning with skiing, boarding, mountain biking, or simply hiking for people wanting more relaxed activities, all this with fantastic views and a great lifestyle. Our teaching is also different from most as our methods are mainly based on speaking skills. You can’t escape the grammar, but we make sure students use it straight away in class so they can apply it in everyday conversation.
Your specialty is in making grammar easy to understand. What strategies or methods do you use to make this possible?
I like using memo-technical ways, so I associate a lot of the grammar with mimics and mimes. For example, once I’ve explained how you create the past, I point out that it always has two parts to the verb (giving the peace sign) and it often sounds like we’re smiling as we speak (ie. j’ai parlé, j’ai mangé). So when students forget, I show them a peace sign and a big smile on my face to remind them. Students find it funny and start doing it amongst themselves without thinking of it as grammar and by the end of the lesson. I might look like Mime Marceau, but they get it! The key for me is to get the students speaking so it helps them feel confident quickly. Once we get this out of them, we can then move onto the more complicated aspects.
Alpine French Schools incorporates activities like skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, climbing, and other adventure activities into the language learning programming. How do these interactive activities aid in language learning?
First, it’s fun! Students are in the classroom for three hours and as much as we make things as entertaining as we can, they need to enjoy the fresh air and make the most of where we are in France. However, in the summer months all our activities are led by French guides and this gives students the opportunity to practice their French and meet French people in an informal way.
In what ways do students get to interact with and immerse themselves with local French speakers in Morzine?
We have put in place a special local scheme called “Friendly-French”, where partner shops encourage our students to speak French. Local shops are used to having to adapt to foreign tourists, but when our students show their Friendly-French card, shopkeepers purposely speak in clear French to help our students practicing. We’re lucky to be in a small town where everyone wants to play the game, so it’s a nice thing to share with our students.
What’s the best part about being located in the French Alps?
Without a doubt, it’s the way of life--going up the mountain for a spot of lunch and ski, taking a walk with stunning views in the summer months, having a picnic up by the lake at the foot of the mountain during the weekend, or a little drink with friends watching the sun go down. It might sound like a cheesy advert, but it is our reality and I just don’t get tired of it!
What is your favorite part about working for Alpine French Schools?
Being the first point of contact for the student, I love seeing the evolution between the first email or phone call, followed by the anticipation you can feel from the student not knowing what to expect, and finally their smile where they see where they are in France and they realize everything is in place for them to just enjoy their time! That’s why I love the organization side of my job. It’s rewarding to see students at ease in Morzine and loving where they are!