ACCENT Paris: Teaching to Learn

For her final semester of college in Spring 2017, USC student Aina Abell studied in Paris with ACCENT. After having lived in Paris for three months, Aina was inspired to continue her education in French language and culture. She signed up for the Teaching Assistant Program in France and continued her studies as an English instructor. For this week’s post, Aina talks about how being a teacher is just as much a learning experience as being a student.

After graduating from college, I wanted to take a breath from the four-year marathon of midterms, papers, labs, and homework that came with a degree in biology. While I intended to pursue a career in science, I worked toward a French minor during college to indulge my equal passion for languages, I even studied abroad in Paris through ACCENT for a semester during my senior year. Looking for an opportunity to further hone my French and continue learning about French culture, I applied for the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF), a year-long program to work as an English language assistant in a French school.

The program placed me at a lycée polyvalent in Rouen, the capital of the Normandy region. This means that the lycée (high school) I teach in caters to students of different educational pursuits, from general to technical to even professional vocational studies. As such, I get a chance to work with students of all different levels of English language experience.

The beginning of the program proved itself quite challenging. Even though I had already spent a semester in France during college, I experienced another form of culture shock as I again immersed myself in a drastically different educational environment than what I was used to in the United States. This was also my first experience teaching, so my first few lessons were quite tricky, as I was not only getting to know my students and their language levels but also figuring out my own teaching and classroom management style.

Despite these initial challenges, I grew more and more comfortable with my position as an English assistant. Eventually, I learned the approach that worked best for me and my students. I now structure my lessons around two main pillars – education and engagement. I try to make my activities as collaborative as possible, making sure that each student is actively engaged in the English language. Whether it’s a lesson in self-expression, cultural exchange, or pronunciation, it is important for me to make the students feel invested, which usually makes for more fun lessons, not just for them, but for me as well.

Now, three months into the program, I have come to truly appreciate my unique position as an English assistant. Every week, I am required to work with different English teachers and students, each with their own teaching and learning styles. As such, the position calls for adaptability, flexibility, and organization. More than that, however, it is also an exercise in creativity.

Furthermore, as an English assistant and an American, I am viewed as not just a language educator but also an ambassador for the English language and American culture. Thus, my fellow language assistants and I (all coming from different nations) carry the responsibility of helping break down cultural barriers, stereotypes, and misconceptions, which may be the only knowledge our students have about our respective countries.

In this way, programs like TAPIF are especially important and beneficial in the context of an increasingly globalized society. It exposes young, impressionable students to a language, culture, and world outside of their own. And as an English assistant, I have also been rewarded with the same cultural exchange and the satisfaction of seeing my students feel more comfortable and confident using the English language.

~Aina Abell, English Language Assistant, Rouen

Studying abroad is a fantastic way to expand your horizons by exploring new languages and cultures. Ready to take the leap? Research your study abroad options at