Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

But… You are French

Before working in TEFL, I had an idyllic vision of teaching. I actually thought that being a good teacher would be enough, and being passionate about the matter you were teaching would be a big plus. That’s why I decided to become an English teacher: because I was in love with the English Language. Turns out, it’s definetely not enough.

As I previously said, I began to study English all by myself as a kid. I wasn’t lucky enough to study in a bilingual primary school, and even if I went in a private middle school and got to study three foreign languages (English, German and Italian), I never actually studied in England or America. All I know is what I learned from books, TV, movies. I literally read a thousand of history books, fiction and non fiction novels. Ask me about George Clinton, Los Angeles geography, Aaron Burr, Lady Bird Johnson, the fifty states of the USA: I know all about this. You can do the same exercise with the UK as well.

I decided, when I was nineteen years old, that my English level wasn’t enough to become a teacher, and the French way to become a teacher wasn’t the one I wanted to follow. I traveled a lot instead, worked on my English by myself, got my business school degree with honors. And after three years of working in real estate, I finally tested my level. Do you know why I wanted to test it? Because when I was in New York City, someone complimented me on my French. That very American Lady thought that I was American.

I actually had 19,5/20 on that test, level C1. I nailed it. I applied to several schools in order to get a teaching degree and get to pass the Teaching Knowledge Test from Cambridge English Assessment (which is part of the University of Cambridge). I got it with Band 3 on every modules I did. I did the Cambridge Proficiency Test and got my C2 level (IELTS: 7,5 to 8). My oral examiner asked me how long I lived in the US.

The fact is, I have no problem with accents. Not to blow my own trumpet, but I can take any accent I want. As a kid, my game was to talk with a foreign accent all the time. I can speak with either a British accent, or an American accent without any problem. I can switch from French to English, then from English to German and so on. I recently discovered that my American accent is the one I take the most naturally, which means that I don’t have to think about it at all. I am currently working in a bilingual primary school, as an assistant teacher, and my students think that I am American.

I will finish soon my Teaching degree (in English, of course!) here in France, I am head of the class, and I will continue this summer with the CELTA ( a Cambridge certificate of teaching English to speaker of other languages). I want to apply to a MA in TESOL (Teaching English to Speaker of Others Languages) in the UK. I want to do a DELTA (also from Cambridge) in a few years.

But yesterday, when I applied in a French bilingual primary school in order to be a primary school teacher in English next year, I got that concise answer: “Don’t bother giving me your resumé. Your qualifications are great but… You are French.”

So, what? Since I don’t have the right citizenship, I don’t deserve to be an English teacher? I honestly think that I speak a better English than some natives rednecks. But if we were applying for the same position, the redneck would won. That’s called discrimination against citizenship. The other word you are searching for that situation is stupidity.




  1. You should go to a place like LA … I’m sure there are elementary schools that would hire you in a jiffy.
    They are critically in need of people like you:
    You being multi-lingual, you’d have no problem with Spanish speakers 😉

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