Introduce yourself: Tell us your background, where you live, and what you do?
My name is Alex Gaines and I’m a 33 year old operations manager for a French based IT company. We build platforms to help sports event organisers manage their events around the world. My job is to help with the internationalization of our company, especially in English speaking markets. I have lived between France and the United States over the last few years, but my ultimate goal is to settle full time in Biarritz, France.
I was born and raised on the east coast of the United States near Charlotte, North Carolina. As a child, I had no interest in learning a foreign language and considered my southern accent a language in and of itself! I had little interest in matters outside of my small world view. But a chance encounter while I was attending University near Los Angeles changed my life direction in a way I would never imagine.
One day, as I was waiting to pick up a friend from the LAX airport, I was approached by a man who spoke no English. He was seemingly very anxious and distressed. I was a little nervous at first, but there was something in his eyes that made me believe he was really in trouble and not looking to take advantage. It turns out he had missed his flight back to Paris because he lost his ticket and wallet on the way to the airport, most likely from theft. He had no money and only his passport. I went with him to the ticketing counter where they explained to me he needed $100 to put him on a flight that evening. I obliged, sat with “Georges” as we pointed at things trying to bond without a common language, said my goodbyes and thought that would be the end.
For the next 8 years, I would receive sporadic phone calls from Paris in broken English. Georges did his best to keep in touch, regardless of the language barrier. Over time, he was getting better with his English and we were able to chat. Then, out of nowhere, he calls to inform me that he wants to pay me back. Georges bought me a round trip ticket and hotel to visit him in Paris! This would be my first trip out of the country as an adult, but being the adventurous type, I said yes right away.
Those 5 days changed my worldview and life almost instantly. It was like I had been blind to the outside world and saw it for the first time. But there was one thing that I felt deeply embarrassed about, my language skills. It seemed like almost every person I met on my trip could at least speak some English or even a 3rd or 4th language. I made a promise to myself that I would become fluent in French and start right away. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but fast forward to today and I have completed my Master’s from a French University, I am the Godfather of George’s’ daughter and I work for an amazing French tech startup. It’s funny what learning a language cando to your life plan.
Share your first A-HA moment with us: The moment when you felt that your language skills advanced to the next level. How long did it take to achieve this result?
When I started learning French back in 2010, there weren’t as many digital options as there are today. My first foray into learning French was with Rosetta Stone. I went through all five levels over the next few years and it was great for building a base, but not much further than that.
In 2013, I moved from the USA to attend an MBA program at EDHEC in Nice, France. Luckily this was a very international program taught completely in English. Little did I know I would be so busy with my studies that would have little time to interact and speak for much length in French over that year. I also quickly realized that although I had a decent base of French, daily conversation was at another level I hadn’t quite yet mastered.
After my MBA, I bounced back and forth between London and France for my job as a consultant. My French would improve during my time in France, but I also spent equal amounts of time in London as well. Sadly, I didn’t have much time to spend on studying French, nor did I want to pay lots of money for a private teacher.
After I left my job as a consultant to work for my current French employer, I returned to the USA to help them enter the US market. All of my French colleagues spoke perfect English and I was losing my French quickly by not using it everyday. I knew I needed to keep going in my fluency goal so I took a chance on a Facebook ad I saw for Rype. It fit my schedule, price point and I had an amazing teacher from day one. Over the first six months I spent an hour a day on Rype. On a recent trip back to France, my colleagues and friends were amazed at my increase in ability. They laughed because usually when a person goes back to their original country, they lose some the language. It had been the opposite for me. Rype was allowing me to practice my French as if I was still in France.
Tell us about your learning schedule. What time of the day do you take your lessons and how much time do you spend learning per week? How do you find time to take lessons with your busy schedule?
I needed lots of flexibility as my schedule is not the same from day to day. What’s great is that I can plan out a whole week or just book one lesson for the next day. Since Rype can adapt to my schedule, I never really have an excuse not to study French. This has made it much easier for me to stick with it and doesn’t make it feel like a grind.
I normally try to schedule my lessons around lunch everyday for an hour. Although in the rare occasion noon is taken, I will book a lesson for early evening right after I finish my work. Since I mostly work from home, it’s easy for me to jump with my Rype teacher right after I finish for the day. I also do a lot of travelling and take my lessons on the road as well. My teacher has always been great about adapting to my circumstances while travelling. I’ve even done a lesson or two while on a train or bus.
Who was your teacher(s) at Rype, and why did you select him/her as your teacher?
I’ve worked with Henri (Enrike) since my first day with Rype. I chose Enrike because he was from the Basque region in France, the region that I had lived and worked in France before and hope to return to soon. Although I chose him for geographical reasons at first, I have stayed with Enrike because he is an amazing and passionate teacher. Simply put, he made our sessions fun while at the same time structuring our time together in an effective way. This kept me constantly engaged and excited about our next class together.
Another layer to Enrike is his international experience. Although he is French Basque, he has lived all over the world and currently resides in Colombia. Learning a language always intertwines with learning that language’s culture. Enrike not only teaches me about local French and Basque culture, but I also get to sample a bit of his cultural experiences from around the world. When you are grinding through grammar exercises, it much more fun when the subject matter is interesting.
Could you share some top language tools and resources you use to learn a language?
Outside of Rype, my key is talking to any French speaker that will listen. That’s not always easy, so the next best trick is finding anything I can read or listen to in French. I like to watch French news on France24.com or local news like sudouest.fr. Then, on the weekend I like to find French films on Netflix and filmfra.com.
Another great trick is to set your phone language to French. It can be a little daunting at first, but you will be surprised the vocabulary you will pick up when you are forced to figure how to make your phone work!
Finally, I read children’s books in French. Tin Tin was one of my favorites, so I’ve found digital copies to read online. Children’s book have much simpler language and thus it’s great when you are learning a new language.
What are your top recommendations and tips for new language learners?
You simply can’t beat immersion when it comes to learning a language. Rype does a great job of this but you have to take it further in daily life. Try to read and watch as many things as you can in the language of your choice. It especially helps when you read and watch things in the subjects you’re interested in. For example, if you like to cook, buy cook books in the language you are learning. Or if you like sports, watch a sports broadcast in your favorite sports. Above all, keep it fun and interesting. The quicker it becomes a grind, the faster you will lose your drive to learn the language.