Isabelle Nicolas-Johnson, Founder of Prêt à Parler & French Friday
What does Prêt à Parler mean ?
Prêt à Parler means ”Ready To Talk”. Our mission is to give you the right tools to boost your confidence and get you speaking French from the very first class! Oui, oui!
Can you tell us more about yourself ?
I am a trained opera singer originally from Montreal, Canada. During the completion of my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Opera and Languages from McGill University, I became a real language aficionado. I then moved to Germany in the hope of finding work as a professional opera singer. I fulfilled several exciting contracts and improved my German considerably in the process, but also felt there were other ways I could share my love of languages with people.
I have always loved the comprehension of languages, learning new vocabulary and expressions, any culture-related facts, and even grammar, for some reason! I am passionnate about understanding the culture, musicality, poetry, and beauty inherent to the languages in which I perform. Like many Québécoises, I speak French and English fluently. Through opera, I learned German, in the context of Mozart, Strauss, and Wagner as well as Italian with Rossini, Puccini, and Verdi. In combination with my opera contracts, I started working for several language companies based in Germany, meeting clients on site and teaching online. I rapidbly became one of their most sought-after language trainers, responsible for many of their VIP clients (Allianz, Caceis Bank, IBM, Munich RE, Philip Morris, Estée Lauder Group, and Bertelsmann). Working as an independent language trainer gave me the flexibility to teach according to my own style and schedule, allowing me to continue to sing and travel. According to my clients, my approach to teaching languages was significantly more enjoyable and efficient, as they felt I instilled my joy of language comprehension in them.
Why did you create Prêt à Parler?
After spending almost four years in Munich, my husband and I moved to Switzerland. A few months later, I started giving private French coaching sessions to international expats based in Geneva. My clients were using words like great, unique, and fantastic to describe my bilingual approach to teaching. I realised the difference a committed multilingual teacher can have on a student. I personally had had great teachers in the past and my clients were telling me that I was fulfilling that role for them. My human and artistic approach to learning languages were at the core of this experience.
In January 2016, I launched Prêt à Parler. Our mission is to help native and non-native English speaking expats to make French and Business French part of their everyday life in Geneva.
Why is your classical singer background such an advantage ?
Not only do my clients learn the language, they also learn to pronounce it well, thanks to the many diction classes I attended during my opera studies. I have many tips up my sleeve! In addition, I put emphasis on the discovery and appreciation of the francophone culture by providing my clients with interesting and insightful material from recent newspapers, magazines, blogs, YouTube, and much more. Most importantly, they get to have fun in the process, which helps them connecting the dots much faster!
What kind of clients do you work best with?
I love to work with knowledge-hungry professionals who have a specific goal in mind and need some help to successfully reach it. If you are looking for someone very organised, with a traditional as well as a more intuitive and interactice approach to learning French, I am the right person for you! I make sure that we have done some progress at the end of every single lesson we do together. I like to see the effort made while trying to understand a new concept and more importantly, the light in your eyes once you realise that you just connected one piece of information to another. I love to share my knowledge and my passion for my mother tongue so that you can share it later on with others.
A lot of my clients had learned French in traditional group settings or took private lessons with a teacher who was too focused on grammar rather than the whole picture. They felt that before working with me, they had never been given the tools to be able to speak French in a confident way.
I am a very positive, encouraging, and nurturing teacher. I provide a lot of tips and use different methods to better adapt to my clients’ various needs and learning styles. There is nothing more satisfactory for me than to see how much progress my clients make with a bit of positive reinforcement from my part and a lot of motivation from theirs. If you really want it, we can make giant steps together.
Which qualities should the ideal French learner try to develop?
Motivated, enthusiastic and cooperative
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Even the best qualified teachers will have a hard time transferring their French skills if you are unwilling to absorb any of it. Motivation is vital to doing well when learning a language.
Hard-working and disciplined
Learning a language involves some efforts. In order to better your skills, you will have to be persevering and determined. Your active language skills will not improve just by listening to your teacher. The trainer can teach, guide and assist you in your learning process, but can’t do the actual learning and practising for you.
Inquisitive, realistic and patient
Do not be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something (a word, expression, idiom, grammar point, etc.). This not only shows your interest but also gives your teacher valuable feedback. Learning a language takes time, but if you practise often outside the classroom, your French skills will pick up quickly. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but one day at a time!
Open-minded, sociable and unafraid to make mistakes
It is a joy to work with people who aren’t afraid to share their opinions and experiences! It is however important to come to the lesson with an open mind to new concepts which might not exist in your mother tongue. It is equally important to put into practice what you learn during a lesson. Controlled practice and free conversation are essential to internalise structure and vocabulary as well as improve pronunciation. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: this is the best way to learn a new language! Finally, if you enjoy meeting new people and willingly dare to use French during your everyday life in Geneva, you will definitely make much faster progress.
How long does a lesson last?
When learning online, 60 minutes is sufficient as it is a much more concentrated approach. It indeed eliminates most common distractions which occur during face-to-face lessons as it creates a more focused environment for the participant (especially when using headphones to block all surrounding noises.) 30 minutes is the minimum amount of time to learn and digest new information. The following 30 minutes give you time to put your new knowledge into practice and really start connecting the dots. This approach is especially convenient for busy professionals and full-time parents who have a limited amount of time to spend on language classes.
How long does it take to be able to have a functional level of French?
Basic proficiency in French (i.e. level A2) normally takes between 3 to 6 months through immersion, which means living in a French speaking country and surrounding yourself almost entirely by French speakers. Realistically speaking, expats generally need between 9 months to 1 year to develop a good command of basic French and feel comfortable interacting in French in their everyday life.
It also depends on how much time and effort you put into learning French. Motivation is a huge factor in learning a language. Those who learn French because they’re interested in communicating with others, traveling, or experiencing another culture are more willing to handle the rigors of learning. Practicing everyday versus weekly and taking private lessons with a great teacher will inevitably speed up the process. Of course, someone who dedicates an hour a day will learn more than a person who commits to only 60 minutes a week.
I recommend dedicating 3 to 6 months (20 to 40 private lessons) to make some real improvement on a specific skill (pronunciation, email writing, preparation for a job interview, improving your verb tenses, etc.) if you do not have time to practice a lot outside our appointments.
I don’t live in Geneva. Can we do the lessons on Skype?
Absolutely! Online learning is a great way for elementary to advanced students (A2-C2) to improve their language skills at a much faster pace than it is possible in face-to-face traditional lessons. It is especially convenient for busy professionals and full-time parents who have a limited amount of time to spend on language classes. Time always goes by very quickly when learning online with our outstanding trainers!
I would like to improve my French conversation, but don’t have the budget to afford private lessons. Do you offer an alternative?
Yes, I do! I host a free French conversation event every month which is called French Friday. The whole point is to put into practice what you have learned in your previous or current French classes and to dare to speak French while having fun! We discuss an interesting and useful topic for your everyday life and I guide you through the process by offering my help, tips, and advice, whenever necessary.
I also recommend subscribing to my Newsletter to receive a Free French Survival Guide as well as my weekly tips on how to better integrate French in your everyday life. You can also follow our FB page for more exciting news, quizzes, articles, posts, and fun tips such as our Monday Love (we share a new expression about love in French, every Monday!).
Will I receive a certificate or diploma at the end of my course?
Prêt à Parler does not offer certificate or diploma courses at the moment, but our teachers are committed to helping you reach the level you need. Previously, we helped clients to successfully prepare for job interviews, business meetings, and to pass the OSEO French Test (to obtain the Permis C and/or Swiss naturalisation).
I’m a real beginner and I’m scared that my teacher will laugh at me.
Learning a foreign language is a big challenge which most people will have to face in this day and age to stay competitive on the professional market. It is a wonderful, mind-opening experience when done with the right teacher.
Prêt à Parler’s multilingual coaches understand the challenge you are facing when learning a new language for the first time. They have been in your situation before and therefore can use English as a support language whenever necessary. Our understanding bilingual coaches can anticipate what you are trying to express and are dedicated to giving you the right tools to get you speaking from the very first class.
- No more awkward ‘‘lost in translation’’ moments.
- No more blasé teacher who leaves you alone with a boring, complicated text while browsing through their FB; but a dynamic coach who has building your confidence and improving your communication skills at heart.
- No more pre-made programs, but a flexible one-to-one coaching which can be adapted to fit your busy work schedule and your various family commitments.
Our outstanding language coaches are here to help you unlock your potential with solutions adapted to your learning style and priorities.