Eleri Maitland speaks perfect French, with a hint of a singing accent come straight from Wales, where she was born 63 years ago. Some twenty years ago, in Rouen, she created, along with her husband, French In Normandy – this multi-award-winning school teaching French as a foreign language is known across the world. Its strengths? Teaching and activities focused on everyday life, with a satisfaction rating of 95%. Portrait.a
My mother spoke French, but she was from a different generation and hadn’t been able to travel because of the war. Instead, she looked at atlases. She herself dreamt of travelling
A first immersion in France at 12
‘‘You can’t be last in your class in both maths and French!’’ Heeding her mother’s advice, Eleri Maitland came to France for the first time at the age of 12. ‘‘My mother had vision. She sent me to stay with a family she didn’t know, just with some money in my pocket, direction La Rochelle. I stayed there almost five months.’’ It was a first immersion in France for the young Welsh girl, who quickly developed a passion for the French language and continued to visit France every summer up until she was 16. ‘‘I was extremely shy! The experience had a big impact on me. It was also there that I learnt to cook classic French dishes, which remain one of my passions!’’
In the 1980s, Eleri opted to teach French, which she now spoke fluently. ‘‘I became a French teacher in a girls’ school in Britain with a horrid head of department who gave me the E classes, that’s to say pupils who didn’t want to be at school.’’ However, as a motivated teacher, Eleri didn’t give in and, bit by bit, she found ways to turn these failing teenagers around, towards successful studies. By chance, on a tour, she then encountered the world of the handicapped and a job that interested her. ‘‘The idea was to seek out ‘normal’ schools that would take in handicapped pupils.’’ After a few years, the Department sent her to Hungary, to an institute very well known for its Petö method – an educational system for handicapped children teaching them to attain a functioning independence.
My husband said to me: why do this for someone else when we could do it ourselves ?
From Hungary to France: for the way of life
After three months, the Hungarian establishment offered her a permanent job. But Eleri wasn’t on her own. ‘‘I’d reached a crossroads in my life and I had a major choice to make.’’ With the man who would become her husband, plus their respective children (she had a daughter, he had two), they discussed the matter at length. Eleri turned down the job. ‘‘When my husband retired and sold his paper, he bought a house in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Region. The children were around a dozen years old and I decided to drop my career. We preferred to be living all together, even if we were poor as church mice!’’ Eleri recalls, laughing. In France, their daily life took shape and Eleri and her husband began giving English lessons. Very soon, the idea of creating their own set-up in which to teach appealed to them. But where? ‘‘At that time, there was only one English school in Normandy and that lack of competition convinced us to give it a go.’’
No sooner said that done. The family moved to Rouen in 1992 to establish an English-teaching school, but one where the French language soon had an important part to play as well. ‘‘There were a lot of expats working in companies here and that’s why we started offering French classes,’’ explains Eleri. In 1997, our couple made this second activity official by founding French In Normandy, which became an independent business. ‘‘It all takes time to set up, because you have to get yourself known across the world.’’ Every year, for four months out of twelve, Eleri travels the globe in search of new partnerships. It’s an experience that allows her to explore her passion for languages: ‘‘I can buy a ticket and ask the way, or for the toilets, in a dozen languages… At present, my favourite is Turkish. It helps that I’m very chatty by nature!’’ she exclaims, laughing. Instituts Français, Alliances Françaises, Asian or Italian companies, language agencies… now employees and students from around the world hear about the School and come to learn French in Normandy !
A language is a living thing and you need to listen to and repeat – almost to cut and paste – all that you hear
Rouen, capital of French as a foreign language
With its simple, direct way to register, via the internet or travel agencies specialising in language courses abroad, French in Normandy is suitable for any foreigner wishing to learn the French language, be it to prepare for entrance to a university or prestigious grande école, to get through a competitive exam or obtain a certificate, or to reach the standard necessary for a job… and students range from 8 to 92 years of age! The route to the school’s success is innovative teaching focusing on exchange and daily life. Key features include new arrivals and departures every week, a maximum of 12 students per class, grouping by language level, highly qualified staff, many events and activities outside the class, a network of almost 200 hosting families and a comprehensive administrative service… ‘‘We also organise a lot of activities that enable students to put into practice their French when out and about.’’ Every Saturday, for instance, the School offers an excursion in Normandy, maybe to Giverny, Etretat, Bernay market, or the D-Day Landing Beaches, helping students discover the language by exploring Normandy’s cultural riches.
‘A large number of our classes are focused on preparing students to take their DELF or DALF exams – for diplomas in the French language, awarded by the French National Education Department – at elementary or advanced level.’’ Thanks to its warm and friendly teaching techniques, French In Normandy soon met with success and made Rouen into something of the capital of French as a foreign language. Catering for general French, intercultural French, university methodology, specific objectives, different level exams, Test de Connaissance du Français (an official language placement test)… the School won its spurs and after a few years became the private school in France that had won the most awards. Among other accolades, it’s been declared Best French Language School for the last five years in a row by UED, the Turkish association for language trips, and has been in 1st place on educationstars.com – the equivalent of TripAdvisor for language course stays… ‘‘plus we’re no longer allowed to be included in Study Travel Magazine’s rankings, having won their award five years in a row and become the first French school to have received the status of ‘Super Star’!’’ Eleri notes, amused, clearly rather proud of all this international recognition. However, while Normandy has become her adopted home, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel a certain nostalgia thinking of her native Wales: ‘‘I love Normandy’s greenery, the landscapes, the culture, but Wales will always be my home, deep down.
French In Normandy in brief:
- French In Normandy is a French language school created by Eleri Maitland in Rouen in 1997. It welcomes 2,000 students a year, on average, or around 150 a week, notably in the summer season, from June to September
- 75% of students at French In Normandy are looked after by the establishment’s network of almost 200 host families across the Rouen metropolitan area.
- The School employs 17 workers, including some ten permanent teachers and seasonal assistants
- Before arriving, future students take a French test on the web, sent to them at the time they register. Alongside an oral test that they’re given on arrival, this allows the qualified teachers to form groups of students of similar level
- Every week, activities are proposed for the students. Often these activities are linked to the French regions and French culture, helping students to put into practice the skills they’ve acquired, but outside the School
- The School works on a system whereby students are arriving and leaving all the time, some being on a language course lasting just a few days, others on a whole year’s course. There is a maximum of 12 students per class, and over 60 nationalities are represented every year
- The School mainly prepares students for DALF or DELF diplomas, awarded by the French Ministry of National Education to certify the skills in French of foreign candidates or of French people from non-francophone countries who don’t have a diploma in secondary or higher education from a French public establishment
- French In Normandy is the private school in France that has received the most awards. Every year, almost 400 language agencies around the world recommend it to students wishing to learn French, to reach a certain language level or to prepare entrance to prestigious higher education establishments such as ESIGELEC (the Rouen School of Engineering) or INSA (the Rouen National Institute of Applied Sciences)…
- Besides its classes, the School offers visits, activities and excursions for all its students so that they can discover Normandy’s tourist sites, specialities and history