Lessons from Alliance Française: How to Make Online French Classes Successful

Lessons from Alliance Française: How to Make Online French Classes Successful

The world of learning went online with the pandemic, including U.S. Alliance Française French classes. Just like their peers at public and private schools and colleges, the staff at every Alliance Française had to learn how to teach online and make l’enseignement à distance interesting for students to learn online. It was not easy for teachers or students but has ultimately been successful.

“It has now been more than six weeks using … online platforms exclusively, and I can positively say that we have found the way to make it work for us and our students, where they don’t feel like the online alternative is simply a temporary solution but rather a new learning opportunity…” said Yasmine Ayadi, French language Teacher at Alliance Française San Francisco (AFSF.)

French language classes are the backbone of most organisations. While many cultural events are offered, classes are often the main income for the non-profits. Although the response to the pandemic varied throughout the U.S., each Alliance Française teacher had to learn how to teach using modern technology and each student had to get used to learning online and stay motivated so classes could continue.

Alliance Française

Stephan De Gery, French teacher at AFSCV (top left) teaches students online. Credit: AFSCV.

“I’ll admit, half of the teachers were happy and half just went with the flow,” said Upi Struzak, President, Alliance Française Silicon Valley (AFSCV.) “It took a while … and the teachers felt like there was more work to do, but the students feel like the teachers are more available and give them more attention online. In a regular classroom, the attention is diffused, it’s more group learning.”

The “took a while” part was centered around becoming comfortable with technology. There were new platforms to choose and learn how to use. Some Alliance Française chapters started using Zoom because it was relatively easy, free and a lot of students used it to keep in touch with friends and family. Others used Krowdlearn which is designed for teaching with a notepad which acts as a classroom whiteboard and shared notes on the side for students to ask questions and respond. Other platforms used are Apolearn for online homework and discussions, plus Drive to share documents and provide extra links to let students practice French on their own.

“We sometimes had technical problems that slowed down the class, such as poor microphones, Wi-Fi connections and frozen images,” said Coline Lebeau, Pedagogical Coordinator at AFSF. “Also, to hear French language from a computer screen is challenging for some students. The sound is not perfect. Although it’s frustrating, we all got used to it.”

Plus, for some people, the online learning experience is just different than a face-to-face classroom.

Alliance Française

French Express Group meeting with AFSCV students. Credit: AFSCV.

“Some teachers and students want to see everyone’s facial expressions and that’s hard on a computer,” said Struzak. “The physical body language is not there like in a classroom.”

But the Alliance Française chapters have found there are also many benefits.

“It sure gives a lot more flexibility,” said Ayadi. “Now, we are having students attending classes, workshops and events from all around the globe. Just last week, I was teaching someone from Lagos, Nigeria, from London and from Manhattan. Also, we are seeing that there is a real demand for online classes as people from all around the (San Francisco) Bay Area might not be able to come all the way to the Alliance with their tight schedule. Online classes give a simple and practical option to everyone to finally get a chance to learn French.”

The Alliance Française de Los Angeles (AFDELA) has also found that online classes have provided students a chance to learn French without the hassles of driving the city’s freeways. Even as the county opens up, many students like the convenience of online classes.

“We had a 92% renewal rate for our Summer classes, plus lots of new students,” said Isabelle Leroux, President, AFDELA. “Online is a great product for Los Angeles because of the huge distance and traffic issues. Plus, we offered a 20% first time discount, which helped attract new students.”

Credit: AF Chicago

But are students learning French? According to Ayadi of AFSF the answer is oui.

“They are learning,” she said. “I deeply believe that learning only requires the right teacher, the right method, and the right commitment. We are very lucky to have students that are inquisitive and determined to learn. Of course, it means that as teachers we have to find innovative ways to present concepts to them and to make sure that they get as much practice with the online version of our classes. Also, students learn in different ways and offering two platforms and two methods of learning the material (virtual classroom and activity modules) is inclusive of different types of learning.”

According to AFSF’s Lebeau, another advantage is personal control. “(Students) are more autonomous in their learning which gives them more time in class to review the things they didn’t understand.”

Although the Spring French language classes for the Alliance Française were generally successful, Struzak takes a big picture of the whole Alliance Française cultural experience.

“We’re not just tutors,” she said, “And students are not just learning verbs and nouns. There’s a whole experience at Alliance Française and some students come for the personal and physical contact. Going forward we’ll probably have a hybrid situation to meet the needs of all our students and offer both physical and online classes, but we will always meet the health guidelines and probably provide smaller, in-person class sizes. It will be a blend of technology and sharable time.”

Alliance Francaise

Credit: AF Cincinnati

What will happen regarding ongoing safe social requirements to deal with the pandemic is still unknown. What is known is that changing the Alliance Française French language classes to l’enseignement à distance not only taught students new skills but also the teachers and administrators.

“I think that whether or not we can reopen the Alliance in the few weeks or months, we will be learning from the experience and probably offering new formats that fit potential students,” said Ayadi. “The online classes make French learning accessible to students around the globe, and some of our local students are flourishing in the online environment. We are really seeing this time not so much as a time for damage-control but one for new opportunities that can enhance our offerings no matter the circumstances.”

One of the enhancements of remote learning is enjoying a glass of wine while learning le passé compose. After all, students are at home. And if anyone objects, pour the wine in a coffee cup – a trompe l’oeil.

Here are some of the Alliance Française chapters that are offering Summer online French classes along with Summer Camps for kids, Ciné-Clubs, Book Clubs, discussion meet-ups and more. Check your local chapter for information.

Alliance Française San Francisco – check classes here.

Alliance Française Silicon Valley – check classes at here .

Alliance Française Sacramento – check classes here.

Alliance Française Washington D.C. – check classes here.

Alliance Française Chicago – check classes here.

Alliance Française Portland – check classes here.

Alliance Française Boston – check classes here.

Alliance Française New York – check classes here.

Alliance Française Los Angeles – check classes here.

Alliance Française de Cincinnati – check classes here .

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Martha Sessums is the France Today Ambassador for San Francisco. Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization.

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  • AFSeattle
    2020-05-28 20:08:24
    The Alliance Française de Seattle also offers a wide range of online classes! www.afseattle.org