Red Tape

Starting a small business in France is no simple task.  I’ve taught these past few years with a statute called “auto-entrepreneur”.  This means that I can work as a self-employed teacher.  I’m expected to bill my clients with no VAT and declare my total earnings every three months, whether I earn something or not.  After declaration we have to pay our social charges which are determined by the amount earned and the type of business activity.  The statute auto-entrepreneur has a limited turnover of 81,500€ for selling merchandise  and 32,600€ for provision of services.  Unfortunately, those who work as auto-entrepreneur can’t write off their expenses. So it could be very costly to work depending on your activity.   This statute could have been very comfortable for me except no one is allowed to be on this statute longer than three years.

I’m slowly coming to my three years in November 2012.  So I’ve been working towards changing to a company.  This afternoon I tried to call the DDTEFP which stands for Direction Départementale du Travail, de l’Emploi, et de la Formation Professionnelle.  I called to ask them to send me the file by email, that I needed to get an agrément.  The agrément is an approval which shows that you are a recognized trainer and gives your clients advantages on their tax forms.  Instead, I got a civil servant on the line telling me what I can and can’t do.  She basically told me that I couldn’t tutor English and teach English in companies, that I had to choose.  I understood that the file she was to give me was for tutoring but, I just wanted to know if there was a file I could fill out to teach in companies as an independent as well.  She then persisted to give me a bogus email address to get the file.  I went to the address but the file wasn’t there.  This is typical of French administration.  The people who answer the phones never seem to know what’s going on and always seem to steer people in the wrong direction.  I then called the Chamber de Commerce to ask them what I needed to teach in companies as an independent and they didn’t know anything either.  I couldn’t believe this.  Normally the Chamber of Commerce should know how business works here in France.  This lady gave me another number.  I called that number and she didn’t know either and of course the person who could answer my question was on holiday and wouldn’t be back for a week.  We are on winter break at the moment.  So I started my search and found everything on the net.

A self-employed trainer needs a number from the DRTEFP which stands for La Direction Régionale du Travail, de l’Emploi, de la Formation.  Apparently many trainers are discouraged by the process of obtaining the famous number.  Basically, I must fill out a file asking for the number while providing a teaching service to a first client.  I must tell the client that I’ve applied and I’m waiting to receive my number from the DRTEFP.  Usually the number is distributed within two to three weeks.  Then I must rebill the client with the new valid number received from the DRTEFP.  Et voilà I’m in business. Sounds a lot like getting the green card.  You need a green card to get a job and you can’t get a job until you have the green card!

That took three hours to discover this afternoon and I still have to get both files sent to me by email.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be more fruitful.  I need to get on the move Mick Jagger…..

2. EFL Series: Vocab Rehab

Poor vocabulary and lack of motivation to read the written word are some of the principal causes for slow progress in oral and written comprehension in English.  This is the case for most levels and all ages.  Teachers are constantly trying to devise new ways or to create beneficial lessons that enrich vocabulary, while captivating the attention of their learners.  Not an easy task you say, but I look at it as an ongoing challenge throughout the year.  There are no right or wrong ways to proceed.  The main goals are to not expect the learners to acquire more than ten words per lesson and principally to keep it fun and interesting.  This doesn’t mean they can’t see more than ten words.

Here is the lesson plan I used in my workshop that I do in my daughters’ school for a small group of French students in 5ème (that’s 7th grade for US).  Firstly, I explained that they would see a video which contained only music no speaking.  They seemed to be reassured by that.  Their job would be to observe carefully, not writing and not speaking.  I then allowed them to watch a second time.  After, I gave them mini white boards so that they could write anything that they could name in the video in English, absolutely anything i.e. tree, man, chair and so on  I also allowed them to write words in French if they didn’t know them in English.  So, finally we arrived at the third viewing of the video.  I periodically stopped the frame so that they would have time to visualize and to write the words they knew.

This video is simple and has quite a lot of things they should know in English at this level.  Of course, this is where the difficulty begins.  The learners and I suddenly realize all the words they don’t know, but as the teacher I try to keep them focused on what they do know for the moment.  After we’ve completely viewed the video for the third time we spend a few minutes talking about the video.  I try to illicit responses in English by asking some general questions:

Where is the young man?

What is he doing?

What is he going to eat for breakfast?

Where does he go?

Then we look at the words they wrote on their boards in English first.  I try to focus on what words seemed to come up on all the boards and which ones didn’t, especially easy words that they should know like postman, mail, pool, women…Then we look at the words they wrote in French.  I first ask aloud if anyone knows what the word is in English.  Surprisingly enough others know but didn’t put it on their board.  It’s great when the kids can help each other.  This gives them confidence and encourages team work.  As for the teacher,  it’s a chance to go over spelling, plurals, and to spell in English.  Spelling aloud in English is still a bit challenging for them at this level because they confuse the E and I and G and J.  They also forget how to say X, K, R and Y.

By the time this part of the lesson is finished I’ve already made a list of the words they don’t know on the board.  I then give them a worksheet with statements about the video.  They have to decide if the statements are true or false.  I verify they understand what true and false mean and then we continue the lesson.  I have each learner read a sentence and they say whether they think the statement is true or false.  The others can agree or disagree.  They must say why they disagree even if the language is simple, but it must be in English.  As we go along if they aren’t so sure of the answer, I open my laptop and put on the video so that they can verify the images for the correct answer.  They really do love this part and it allows them to reuse some of the vocabulary we went through before because it’s on the board.  Not to mention, they really do have very good memories.

At the end of the lesson the learners have to write the list of vocabulary words they didn’t know on paper.  Their homework is to choose ten of those words and write a sentence with each one.  When they come back for further workshops in the year I will have time to work on the other words on the list gradually.  So, there you have it!  Give it a try using any type of video.  If you can’t find one that is silent or that just has background music just turn the sound off.  Your learners will love it and so will you.  Look below for the link of the worksheet and video used for this lesson.

Breakfast Prepositions Video worksheet

6. The Slap

Well finally finished last night very late!  Frankly I didn’t think I would get through it.  The beginning had so much cursing and bad sex, I couldn’t believe it.  As the story advances, the principal themes start to become more clear.  It’s basically a story of friends and is set in Australia, specifically Melbourne.  The main characters are Hector, Anouk, Harry, Connie, Rosie, Manolis, Aisha, and Richie. The writer has given a section to each character.   You learn about the characters’ background and how they are related to the other characters mentioned.  Some of the themes are parenting, “being” Australian, alcoholism, domestic violence, aging, motherhood, family loyalty, homosexuality, drug abuse, marriage and fidelity.  I may have forgotten a few but it’s a very vast list, too vast.

Actually, I think there are too many themes running through the story.  I think it’s for this reason that things are often exaggerated.  It’s all in your face!

Tsiolkas tells the story from eight points of view where the characters question their desires, fears, and expectations.  In the beginning of the novel, there is a family barbecue which turns into a disaster when an adult slaps an indomitable three-year old. The slap and its consequences force the characters to evaluate their family life and the way they live.  The slap is the commencement of much retrospect which in turn brings out much jealousy, lying, and mistrust among the characters.  As things progress, the story becomes more interesting because the scope of the characters is better developed and more interesting to read towards the end.  I think my favorite sections are Aisha and Anouk.  The majority of the characters are far from likeable because they sometimes do such despicable things but the core and themes of the story are what keep you reading.

Christos Tsiolkas has written Loaded (was turned into a feature film called Head-On), The Jesus Man, and Dead EuropeThe Slap was longlisted for the Man Booker and was adapted for television on ABC 1.  Tsiolkas is also a screenwriter, essayist, and playwright.

I’d recommend reading The Slap if you’re interested in a bite of Australia.  The lifestyle is very much alive in the novel.  Although the  first 150 pages are probably the most difficult.  You will either hang on for dear life, which I did because I was reading it for my book club today or drop it like a hot potato. I finished it at 10pm on Friday.  I started counting how many times the f—-word was used.  When I counted up to 50 and I was only at the beginning it started to get on my nerves.  Someone mentioned that this was probably the way this class really speaks in Australia, but I’m not so sure.  Someone else today mentioned that a lot of the cursing was what the characters were thinking.  A lot of us found that the dialogue of these eight characters sure sounded alike, whether man, woman, old or young-not ver realistic.  I remember my Australian friends from Egypt and they are nothing like the men described in The Slap, nor do they speak the way they do in this book.  Then I thought could it be that they are not from the same class!  It’s really too bad there are no Australians in our book club.  We could have then got a better idea of what was realistic and what was stereotypic.  Despite all the bad things we said about The Slap, we did find a few redeeming aspects to the story.  I won’t get into details because I don’t want to write any spoilers.  We did have a good laugh and extensive discussion.  I’d give it about three and a half stars out of five, but I most definitely won’t be reading it again.

I don’t know much about Australian literature and the only other Australian I’ve read is Kathy Lette. I guess her writing would be considered Chick Lit, but it’s a funny and relaxing read.  Someone suggested that I read Peter Carey, so I’m going to check him out.  Hope to get one of his novels on my 50 read books list of 2012.  I’ll keep searching for more examples so that I can maybe finally come to some conclusion about Australian literature.  For the moment it’s a bit of a mystery…..

Check out the trailer for The Slap!  It seems to follow the book quite closely.  I can definitely see how this will keep audiences glued to the television in the evening.

The Slap – ABC 1 Trailer

5. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

Amazing!! I absolutely loved everything about this trilogy and frankly I’m not always so thrilled about reading them because they are so lengthy and two and/or three are never as good as the first.  Not to mention, I think they are often long-winded and could be finished up a lot quicker.  I actually read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in French.  I’d gone to a French bookstore and was looking for somethng completely different to read.  This was a long time before the books were released in the US.  I read it and liked it, but then reread it in English and liked it even more.  I quickly bought The Girl who Played with Fire and devoured it in 4 days.  My husband had started reading them and got all the way to The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest; so, I took a break and let him read it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to finish the trilogy until yesterday, over a year later. It took me about 8 days to read not because it wasn’t good, but because my busy teaching schedule got the best of me last week. The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest is 743 pages, of pure excitement.  I thought my favorite book was going to be #2 and then #1 but in fact, it’s #2, #3, and then #1. I hated having to put down #3 to go and do other things.  I just wanted to know what wa going to happen next.

Fabulous!  I’m not an unconditional fan of detective novels.  I started to read this and was completely won over by the complexity of the story, the character analysis, the mood, and the underlying Scandinavian culture that runs as a constant denominator through the entire trilogy.  It’s cold, hard, and dark.  The last book wraps up all those loose ends but takes you through all the details and clues as if you were reading in reverse.  I tell you I was glued to the very last page.  It’s exciting and you want to know what’s going to happen to Lisbeth Salander and her enemies.  There are some surprising scenes but I won’t be doing any spoilers here so no worries.

It’s funny how these books seem to have won over millions of readers (about 20 million readers in 41 countries), but on the other hand there are  some readers who couldn’t get past page 100 of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  All those in this case have said the same thing.  They thought it was too violent and couldn’t get into it.  They said it seemed to be a man’s book.  Funny, I thought it was a woman’s book. I found interesting the quotes, statistics, and information given between the chapters about women.

The main character is Lisbeth Salander.  She’s young, highly intelligent, anti-social, a fighter, a computer hacker, and fierce when she needs to be and this thriller trilogy is about her.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is just the beginning of a long saga of conspiracy, mystery, violence, computer hacking, politics, and of course plenty of intrigue. There is also a strong nazism theme that runs through this trilogy,  which was very lightly touched on in the Swedish film  from May 2009, directed by Niels Arden Oplev.

As it turns out The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the American version directed by David Fincher starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, opened in French theaters three weeks ago. I had the pleasure of seeing it in original version. NO!!!  I can’t bear watching English/American movies dubbed in French anymore.  It just goes against the grain. I feel as if though I’m missing out on an inside joke.  Indeed, it was an interesting adaptation of Millenium because Fincher has a way with filming dark and difficult situations.  It’s Hollywoodian, at its best and well worth seeing.  Rooney Mara’s performance was staggering and Daniel Craig made an excellent Blomkvist.  Physically, he’s what you would like to imagine for the character of Blomkvist when you see how many women he jumps into bed with.  I can’t wait to see what Fincher will do with the sequels.


Stieg Larsson was a genius because he revolutionized the detective novel with the Millenium trilogy, although I don’t think that was his intention.  Ultimately, I think he wanted to show the influence of extremism on Sweden as well as the complexities of govenment dealings and how it can effect society.  He unfortunately died of a heart attack in November of 2004 at the age of 50, when his trilogy was published posthumously.  He was a writer and journalist, who spent a lot of time researching and fighting against nazism and right-wing extremism.  As time went on, Larsson became an expert on right-wing extremism and gave lectures to Scotland Yard and wrote many articles on the subject.  He was the driving force behind an organization called Expo Foundation.  The Expo Foundation is a privately owned research foundation which aims to study, map, and fight anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and racist tendencies in Sweden and in Scandinavia. It was founded in 1995. I guess you could say Larsson was writing about what he had fought against for years.

It’s really a shame this genre of literature won’t have the possibility to continue with Stieg Larsson, but his commitment to this particular subject gave him the insight and knowledge to write such an important work.  Maybe someone else will take on this style of detective novel or even try to improve on it.  I wish them luck.  They’ve got their work cut out for them.  Only time will tell….

Check out the link below to watch the trailer for David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo!

For French speakers listen to the link below for more interesting information about Stieg Larsson.

France Inter – Stieg Larsson entre fiction et réalité

Black History Month

It’s Black History month again for some but everyday is Black history for me.  This has become a controversial subject in the past few years, whether it should be celebrated or not.  This is the month that we celebrate African-Americans’ achievements and their central role in United States history.  Black History month was actually developed from  Negro History Week, which was launched in 1926 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson.  Negro History Week gradually evolved into Black History month in 1976.

For all you avid readers out there check out any of these great black writers to get an insight into black issues.  This list includes a lot of my favorites however there are many more that I haven’t listed.  It may not be mainstream literature to most but a lot of this literature deals with current issues that touch all races and cultures. Enjoy reading….

Maya Angelou, Tina McElroy Ansa, James Baldwin, Claude Brown, Octavia Butler, Bebe Moore Campbell, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Eric Jerome Dickey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ralph Ellison, Ernest J. Gaines, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Nikki Giovanni, Alex Haley, Lorraine Hansberry, Lynn E. Harris, Chester Himes, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jamaica Kincaid, Bernice L. McFadden, Louise Meriwether, Toni Morrison, Terrry McMillan, Walter Mosley, Jess Mowry, Gloria Naylor, Barbara Neely, Ishmael Reed, April Sinclair, Alice Walker, Margaret Walker, Dorothy West, Richard Wright, Malcom X….

Write in and tell me what you read and liked!

Here’s the main reason I love Black History month (all the interesting people I learn about):  I was reading a blog post a couple of days ago about inspirational black women, Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784) the first published African-American poet was the center.  I ‘ve just learned about her and will be taking some time to find out more about her and to read some of her poetry. Check out his blog post on!