This past week I met Julie Cummings-Debrot, a freelancer with her own company here in Paris – for a cup of coffee and a chat about teaching in France, corporate training and how she’s incorporating blended learning into her courses.
We met at La Défense, the swanky financial district of Paris just after one of her lessons.
We had a nice lil’ chat and afterwards I rode my lil’ folding bike back home to write up some notes to share Julie’s rich experience with us all here! Without further ado…
So how long have you been in France?
Longer than I care to say really, let’s just say that Margaret Thatcher was PM in the UK when I left!
Still enjoying it?
Yes I do enjoy the life we have here.
Been teaching most of that time?
I began teaching in 1980.
How long have you been doing more of the corporate training?
We talked about how much change you envision in the French ELT scene over the next 10 years particularly within professional corporate training, so what do you think has changed in the past 10 years, both in France and internationally?
The whole EFL world has changed dramatically these last 10 years. If you think of some of the excellent material that has been created to help trainers really get to the nitty gritty by the likes of Russel Stannard, Paul Emmerson, Adrian Underhill to name but a few. Such wonderful outfits like IATEFL – with the BESIG forums – TESOL France and worldwide, The Language Network creating and sharing of knowledge and experience online with the community is truly fantastic.
Personally, I’m using more blended learning these days, which has probably replaced a lot of books, though I still aim that a lot of the ‘raw materials’ in class actually come from the students themselves. If for example they’re working on a presentation, business success story or have specific needs they are going to tell me exactly what they’re after, I adapt my training to those specific needs, thus creating meaningful, functional and practical communication.
While we were talking you touched upon the point of terminology -Coach-Trainer-Teacher. Can you share that with our readers?
I feel that we constantly need to remind ourselves that – “We’re not the sage on the stage, but the guide on the side” helping to get students to a place of auto-correction where they take full control of their own communication.
Calling ourselves a Trainer or coach is very true because we are really tweaking something we’ve seen hundreds of times and, just like a coach, we know what a trainee needs to hear to move forward on their own. It’s incredibly satisfying when they talk about their successful conference call or negotiation in English – these are some of the rewards we have.
Describe a typical client.
I now do a lot of one-on-one corporate middle and upper management training, but also at the moment with one of my clients I’m giving group sessions to alternate groups on alternate weeks with individual telephone lessons in between. This is proving to be not only very cost effective for the company but highly motivating for the trainees. This is where I use English Addicts and the feedback from the trainees is very positive indeed.
So as a package I offer 8 hours outside of class between the blended learning and telephone classes and 16 hours of group sessions. An interesting thing I find is that I when I go back to the student tracking tool I find that some students have done maybe 40 or more exercises – one client even did 64 hours and said it was just like “reading the newspaper”, something that he really found enjoyable. And here lies the essential in my view, when the trainees are enjoying it they are automatically learning twice as much.
The student tracking is a great tool as I can also see what kind of mistakes they’re making, what they’ve done and what subjects they’re interested in. As we often say to our students ‘All language is Speaker’s Choice’, helping them to make those subtle choices – giving conciseness and clarity to their communication – instead of the usual ‘translation’ which just makes things more difficult for them and keeps them in ‘Fringlish’ land – very frustrating all round.
What are your typical corporate client needs?
Really varies, but one thing I find again and again is their need for a greater “Self-Esteem” in English. They often know all the particular vocabulary or grammar that they need, but don’t necessarily feel at ease in the“in-between-moments” of doing business – at the dinner table, in the lift etc.
One of the really great things one recent trainee said was “Since I’ve been using English Addicts, I’m no longer lost for small talk or interesting subjects of conversation. For the more advanced trainees we frequently take the subject chosen and find out more about it via the web. This can lead to deep discussion (what I like to call real, meaningful communication) which helps them cope better in their work environment on a day-to-day basis.
Another thing I love working with is pronunciation. Clients will also say they have a “horrible accent” and I say “au contraire”- the accent is wonderful and is part of your cultural identity - it’s the mispronunciations that can cause greater problems. While doing my CELTA I realized how important phonetics are and helping students learn how to incorporate this into their learning programme, so that they can start to auto-correct and really fly on their own.
What are some of the challenges of being freelance?
Negotiations… in the beginning cold-calling was hard, but in the end, I’ve found a lot of value in really doing a great job with current clients which in turn frequently leads to recommendations. Networking with other colleagues is also very important – when we have more work than we can deal with then sharing with other experienced trainers is very important and mutually beneficial.
So, if there are challenges, what’s the wonderful upside to being Freelance?
The freedom to chose the projects and areas you want to develop. For example, about 6 years ago I became a Mind Mapper with Tony Buzan and now deliver one or two day workshops on this wonderful technique. I Mind Map most of my own training now and this has proved a great time saver. This in turn has allowed me to spread my own wings and start another business in a completely different domain to EFL. Just like yourself, Brad, with your Violin business in China.
As I’m always blown away by the range of things that ELT professionals do on the side, would you mind telling us how you got into the Organic Coconut Business!
My family and I decided to set up a company dealing exclusively with products derived from the coconut tree. And that’s the reason for our name: La Maison Du Coco
We created the company four years ago when a very good friend introduced us to the fabulous benefits of the coconut tree. Once we found out there were no other companies doing this in France- especially no one doing Organic which was our goal- we decided to take the plunge.
We also make regular trips to our suppliers in the Philippines to coordinate our requirements and quality standards. Doing business within a different cultural environment has its own challenges and we’re learning constantly as we progress in this venture… which makes things fascinating!
We have successfully helped introduce and develop organic coconut products into the French market and with the growing consumer awareness we’re very hopeful that the future will allow us to spread our business into other European countries. Our product range has gone from 1 to over 15 in the last four years and a number of them are now certified organic. We’re also starting to get more exposure in the press and TV and look forward to our 7th Health Fair in February 2013.
This autumn we attended the International Trade Fair called ‘Le SIAL’ and received the Innovation Prize for our latest product of Coconut Ice-cream made from fresh coconut milk.
NOW ISNT THAT PRETTY COOL Tip of the hat, Julie on all of your great activities. Thank you for sharing with the readers here on the blog and look forward to hearing more soon.
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