Helene Combe

Through my journey as an English teacher and a language learner

Category: women (page 1 of 2)

What about languages?

That’s one of the first questions my students asked me yesterday.

They know, as you probably know too, that I recently started my master in Applied Linguistics. Last Tuesday, France 2 broadcasted a documentary about languages and immigration, so they thought of me. The whole idea of that documentary was bilingualism and biculturalism: exactly what I am studying right now. The conversation was extremely pleasant, and we all had something to add on to it.

One of my students totally blossomed during that conversation, and explained her whole life story. Prepare to be blown, because I was, and I totally admire her.

She was born in Bulgaria, from Armenian parents. She learnt Armenian at home, but her childcare center was run in Bulgarian, so she picked up some Bulgarian. By the age of 4, she was able to speak with ease these two languages, but her family moved to France.

In addition, she learned French at school, continued to speak Armenian at home but stopped, little by little, to speak Bulgarian. Her two older sisters though, they continued to speak to each other in Bulgarian, just to annoy her! She totally forgot Bulgarian, and French became her dominant language, as she had to work in that language. She continued to speak to her parents in Armenian, and to write to her family back there in their language, by her own will (her sisters gave up at some point). She is now forced to check her vocabulary on a dictionary, as she lost her parents, and so reduced considerably her practice.

As you can guess, she added English to that mix, when she was around forty, because she was interested by the language itself. She practices once a week in my class, and told me yesterday that she spoke better English now than Armenian! Her level is English being a strong B2, she could totally live in England as well (and before Brexit, she was thinking about it!)

She is 68 years old, and managed to function in four different languages. If that’s not inspiring…

Yes, Doctor Who can be a female

I wanted to write today about my second week at CELTA but something else came up and just couldn’t avoid it.

“The next Doctor Who will be a woman!”

“Have you heard? The 13th Doctor Who is a female”.

I received 3 texts within an hour and saw 25 posts on Twitter. And I have to admit that I don’t get it. Doctor Who is an alien: it can be a male or female, by definition. Also, it’s a fictional character, so basically, there is nothing to yell at, considering that it’s just entertainment. Why are people freaking over that fact?

Because it apparently matters. Because for some reasons, some people cannot be female. Whatever we might say, whatever what Gloria Steinem might do and fight for, whatever our praises for Malala, whatever our hypocritical #genderequity, it’s still upsetting, for some people to see a woman as an iconic character, and worse, a strong, independent one. I mean, do you imagine the other way around?

We couldn’t care less.


I am finally at peace with myself

I used to think, as a teen, that my life was miles away from what I truly wanted. I thought that for a long time, to be honest, long after my teenage years. I blamed myself for silly details for so long, it’s actually laughable. Ten years after high school, I finally made peace with myself, and it feels good.  Took me twenty eight years to understand.

I probably mentioned earlier that I am half Italian, so my maiden name is Italian (I took my husband’s name quite recently also). I am bi cultural: I grew up simultaneously in two countries. My Italian may be rusty but that doesn’t change the fact that my childhood memories are there. When you are a teen, or a kid, I guess it’s complicated to understand that you have two cultures, that you belong in several places when you are actually struggling to understand who you are.

Being bicultural is a part of me, something that I couldn’t deny. Believe me, I tried. I tried to become someone else, tried to stifle myself, which is a schizophrenic move, I do realize that now, because I was sabotaging myself. I decided to go to business school instead of following language studies for obscure reasons as well.

I am millions miles away from what I thought I would become. I got lost on the way, but it’s okay. I mean, I just began my CELTA, I moved from Lyon to Bournemouth, I hold several diplomas on several subjects, I speak fluently 2 languages, still learning 2 others, I already traveled a lot and the best is yet to come.

It was worth waiting.


Itinerary of a chronic pain: my life with endometriosis

I suffer from endometriosis since age fifteen.

Don’t pity me, I didn’t even know what that was three years ago. I just knew that a couple of days per month, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed, that I would be weak and tired, and that I felt like I was about to die, basically.

One time, I was so in bad shape that my mother brought me to a hospital: they thought I was doing an appendicitis and they opened me up straight away, without even waiting for the tests results. Turns out, I wasn’t having an appendicitis. I had something but they didn’t know what… I had endometriosis already, but I didn’t know it yet.

I hated OB gyn. The first time I went, at 16 years old, she hurt me so bad that I wasn’t able to walk properly for the rest of the day. The second time, she didn’t believe me when I told her I was a virgin (I was eighteen). When I tried another one, she called me a liar for when I said that I had only one sexual partner (guess what, not every girl is a slut!). That last one called me a “sissy”.

My period lasted between three and five days, and I was sick the first two days: nausea, headaches, stomach pains, dizziness, even dysuria. I suffered from ache in my own vagina 20 days per month. I could say exactly in how long I was supposed to have my period because I could feel it. 

The first time I tried to have sex, it hurt so bad that I bursted into tears immediately. I could try again only two years later, with a more patient partner, who understood that something went wrong (patience was apparently his one and only virtue, otherwise he was the biggest dick I have ever met in my whole life). I fainted once during sex, a long time ago. I still can’t truly understand why people are so into it. Even if it gets better with time, after five minutes or so, it starts to hurt so much that I pray for it to stop.

I finally found, after ten years, an OB Gyn, a very gentle and kind lady who put me into a special pill, a whole month pill, which means I can’t have my period at all. Sometimes I do, because the endo is still here, it’s just slower than before. The last time I got it, I felt dizzy, weak and like in a roller coaster. That reminded me that it was still here, inside me.

Recently, I complained about people asking me when I was having a baby. The truth is when you have endometriosis, you don’t know if you will be able to, at all. Every year, during my annual OB Gyn appointment, I am asking if it’s going to be possible and invariably, the doctor tells me it will be. I want a baby, at some point. Not now, for various obvious reason, but endometriosis is surely an element to consider.

I am not gonna die from endometriosis. I am stage one, which is pretty basic, I have my pill for a month, I never stop it and it’s okay. One of my former colleagues had to be put on early menopause because the whole month pill wasn’t working on her. The endometrium is so infiltrate that she has to go into surgery once a year. I am far from it.

I had a flower tattooed on my appendicitis scar they performed on Christmas Eve in 2009. It wasn’t that far away, but they didn’t do a sonogram to check what they were doing. And every time someone is asking me when I’ll have a baby, I respond that I want a dog anyway. Because it’s better to fight it by ignoring it, by living anyway than to explain every boring day that something is happening inside of you.







Wednesday, I had a little glimpse of what the word “hypocrisy” means.

Thousands of women on this planet was captioning their latest selfie on Instagram, or Facebook, or Snapchat or whatever network is trendy now with these hashtags: #internationalwomensrightday , #feminism, and of course, my favorite, #genderequality.

Last Wednesday, I got into a prestigious teaching program in England. My goal, you got it by now, is to be a top level English teacher: I enrolled to Cambridge ESOL Examination, I passed two exams within four months even if I have full time job, I worked my ass off to be on this program. I had to pass a written test, to ace an interview to finally get in.

If I were a man, I would have been praised. People would be congratulating me. No red carpets, but almost. I would have been the boss, am I right?

But I have ovaries, and apparently that is more important than anything else. When I told people about my enrollment, about the fact that I had to study in England (AKA my dream since age nine) to achieve my goal, this is how they freaking react:

What about your husband?

Does he agree?

Wouldn’t be clever to have kids instead?

(My husband is fine, thank you)

Nobody cares that you have a brain, girl. You may be the smartest person in your block, you may ace every test you are going to pass, but your main objective is to bring kids to this planet. How can you pretend that we have gender equality if these remarks still exist?

It’s not men who said these to me. It was full grown up women. That’s maybe what hurts the most.

There is no gender equality.






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