Meet Catharine, Coffee Break French learner

Tell us who you are, where you live, your nationality and how long you’ve been learning a language with us.

My name is Catharine, I am Professor of Viola in Ohio, U.S.A. I first heard of Coffee Break French when I was in New York in December (2018) at a reception following a concert my husband was performing in at Carnegie Hall. The next day we started driving back home from New York and we listened to the first few podcasts of season one in our car and were hooked!

My husband had studied French in high school and in college, but I did all I could do to avoid French because I was intimidated by the fact that it doesn’t sound as it looks, so in school I opted for Spanish and German. Everything changed last summer (2018) when my husband and I were teaching/performing at a music festival in Bordeaux, France. Suddenly I found myself performing chamber music with wonderful musicians but I was the only musician in the group who couldn’t speak/understand French. After one rehearsal I was so stressed out that I actually became emotionally upset because I wanted to understand and I had also come to the realisation that I did not want to be one of those people who expected people to cater to me by speaking English….so my husband and I agreed that if we were invited to return to the festival in 2019 we would commit ourselves to studying French.

We received our return invitation to the festival for the 2019 festival soon after returning to the U.S. Once we were home my husband looked into all sorts of options. He started one program but when we learned of Coffee Break French in December we were both thrilled with the approach and I have become addicted. Since my husband has a background in French, my challenge was clear so I finished season one with the podcasts and then purchased the premium package so that I could benefit from the bonus materials. I’ve been so excited about the program that several of my students have also become Coffee Break learners of French and other languages. Since purchasing the bundle in January, I listen to Coffee Break every morning and have completed Seasons 1-3 and started 4, but I am reviewing Seasons 1-3 constantly when I run. Even when running races I don’t notice the distance I’m running when I’m intently listening to episodes of Coffee Break French. Mark makes learning French so approachable and fun that when my husband told me last week about The Coffee Break French Magazine, I bought the premium version immediately along with the Reading Club and En Route avec Coffee Break French. It’s been five months now and I’m beginning to feel confident that this summer in Bordeaux will be even more meaningful as I hope to be able to at least understand more, and I’m excited to try to speak. My husband was a concertmaster for 20 years and at his retirement reception last month I had the opportunity to try a few sentences with their music director (originally from Paris) and was shocked and encouraged that he could actually understand me!

What experience have you had speaking and learning other languages?

My grandmother was fluent in German so I heard it as a child but never enrolled in a German class until my graduate studies. When I enrolled the German professor insisted that I take a placement test because she said I didn’t have an accent and was convinced I had studied it before. In high school and in my undergraduate studies I studied Spanish for a total of 4 years. I’ve travelled to Europe several times, and spent many holidays in Paris over the years (but was one of those people who relied on others to speak English).
I had one experience many years ago when I was in Paris and a colleague asked me to go to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris to search for some scores that they had for a project. I ended up speaking German to the librarian because I didn’t speak French. I wish I hadn’t been so intimidated by the language in the past, but I am grateful for Coffee Break French because the approach that Mark uses has brought the mental block I had in my mind down and makes the journey of learning a language I very much avoided enjoyable. I don’t go a day without spending time either reviewing or moving forward with new episodes.

What are your favourite memories of learning a language?

My favourite memories are the “ah-haaa!” moments when Mark explains something and I understand it because I see how it relates to the other languages I’ve learned. Another favourite memory is that my students have been motivated by my drive to learn another language at this stage of my life. It is really special that my experience has inspired them and that they are also turning into Coffee Breakers!

Where would your ideal coffee break be, and with whom?

My ideal coffee break would be to speak French fluently with my husband.

What’s the best language-learning tip you have found works for you?

I’m still figuring out what works best for me, but up until now I think it’s a combination of things. As a musician, I think I’m mostly an aural learner, but I find that a multi-modal approach seems to work best for me. I need to reinforce by combining the aural with writing by hand (opposed to typing), reading, and speaking/pronunciation.

Quick-fire Round

• Your favourite language: Now it’s French
• Your favourite word or phrase in the language: J’adore
• Do you have a favourite film, TV show, book or singer in the language? Dix pour cent (TV series)
• Your favourite destination to practise your language: France (Paris/Bordeaux)

Please finish off with a message to your fellow members of the Coffee Break community and the Coffee Break Team.

My sincere thanks to Mark and the Coffee Break team! Your expertise in making language learning fun and approachable has and is making enormous differences in so many ways, it has even influenced the way I think and teach my viola students. I am learning more than the language from you and I appreciate this experience as it has been and continues to be thoroughly enriching daily!