Interview: Camille Chevalier-Karfis – French Today
Olivier Karfis, Leyla and Camille Chevalier-Karfis
How would you describe yourself in three adjectives?
Passionate, Dependable, Thorough
You were born and raised in Paris, lived in Boston, USA for 18 years and now live in the Brittany region of France. Why did you leave the US to go back to France?
We wanted to simplify our lives, and raise our daughter among her family. We loved living in Boston and made life-long friends there, but everything changed when our daughter Leyla was born. We missed our family terribly, and Olivier being an only child, we wanted Leyla’s Grandma and Great-Grandma to see her grow and be part of her everyday life. Furthermore, in Boston, our life was very expensive.
Olivier had a high responsibility job, was getting more and more stressed and had less and less time to be around us. It seemed we were never making enough money. We wanted this to end. Go back to simpler things: less money for sure, a rental instead of owning a house, but much more family time, less pressure, more fun.
What are some of the major differences between France and the USA?
Many books have been written on this vast subject… but for us, the major difference was the rhythm of life. In Boston, we were always running: Olivier was commuting to work, leaving early, coming back late, and working on weekends. And when he was not working, we’d go shopping, or work on the house.
During the vacation, we’d jump on the plane, and then jump on trains to go see everybody, then back on the plane and then back to work without having had any time to rest. Here, everything is closed on Sundays. So we rest. Maybe it’s more because we moved from a big city to the middle of the countryside, but our life in France is much “slower”, and we do get to rest and share good time on weekends and vacations.
What are your interests outside of teaching?
I am a big foodie. Olivier loves to cook, and I love to eat. During the weekends, we often make a cooking project, like Chinese Dim Sum: Olivier prepares the dough and the fillings, Leyla presses the dough balls, and I stuff the raviolis… Then we eat and watch “So you think you can dance”. I also love to take hikes by the sea, go snorkeling, horse-back riding and I also draw. Olivier loves music, is a big Geek, and takes gorgeous pictures of nature.
My drawing “horses”
For anyone who is not familiar with FrenchToday, can you briefy describe it?
Camille on the phone
How did you start teaching French?
I was in Boston and needed to make some money. A friend was teaching French to this older gentlemen, three times a week: she was moving and asked me to replace her. She handed me a grammar method and told me “anyway, he is mostly interested in conversations”. At first, I couldn’t explain his mistakes, just correct him, which didn’t help much. So I bought many books, and I would write down the mistakes he made, and at home look them up, then I’d explain them to him on his next lesson. I often re-organized the notions given by the books, looked for my own examples and way to then have him practice the new concept. That is how I started. My students taught me everything I know.
Why have you decided to teach ‘modern’ French, and what exactly do you mean by this term?
Because there are really two French languages: written French, and spoken French. Schools traditionally teach you to speak like you write, but it is so wrong… Students then go to France, don’t understand when people speak, and half the time are not even understood themselves. If you are learning French to communicate, then you need to learn today’s vocabulary and pronunciation, or you’re going to get very frustrated.
How did FrenchToday get started?
I had written a novel for beginner students that I used in class, to teach them grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary in context. I tried to have it published, but without success. So we decided to put it for free on the internet, so we could help out students of French and give back to the community. This got us a lot of traffic, and people were asking for more. My husband being a web specialist, he got me to do Podcasts, which were very successful. And people were still asking for more. So I wrote more audio novels, more lessons, and we are constantly adding new material.
What are some of the biggest opportunities and challenges of teaching via the Internet?
Opportunities: time savings. No commuting to/from the lessons. You learn from the comfort of your own home. Also, choices: you can reach and choose from many tutors, instead of just getting the one provided by your local French school (if you even live near one!)
Challenge: Honestly, none, all you need is a good internet connection.
And now your favorites:
Who is your favorite French author or poet?
French poet: Baudelaire.
French author: Daniel Pennac.
Which is your favorite French city?
Too many great cities to list. It’s not the city, it’s the company I’m with.
Where is your favorite place in the Brittany region to relax?
The tiny blue stone beach 15 minutes away from my home. There are 157 steep steps to get to it (and back!) but it makes it even more private.
Where is your favorite place in the Brittany region to celebrate a big event?
Paimpol has it all: excellent restaurants, a charming harbor, little pedestrian streets full of shops, and best of it all: my father-in-law who is a chef!!
Thank you Camille for taking the time to speak to us at My French Life™. We’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you. To find out more about Camille or how to learn French, look for her aticles on myfrenchlife.org and check her own website frenchtoday.com
We are always looking for inspiring people like Camille to interview, so if you can think of anyone, please make a suggestion. If you would like to join our My French Life™ team of Contributing authors, photographers, interviewers and very talented people who live all around the world, then send me a message to info@MyFrenchLife.org.