My love of French started in Junior High in Elyria, Ohio, when I realized that I was pretty good at languages without really trying! I was sent to the state French competition, where I received an Honorable Mention (maybe they just give that to students who show up?! LOL). Whatever it was, it motivated me to continue with French.
I took 4 years of French in high school and always thought that I would be a flight attendant. I went for an open interview with Pan American Airlines during my senior year of high school and was told that I was too tall. My dream of traveling the world was shattered. My high school guidance counselor called me into his office to try to convince me to take the ACT to go to college. I had a 3.8 in high school, but other than French, really did not enjoy school.
Since I had no back up plan, I decided to take the test and got accepted to Miami of Ohio, The Ohio State University and Bowling Green. My high school French teacher convinced me to go to Bowling Green, because they had an Academic Year Abroad (AYA) program and a French House residence on the BG campus. I took her advice and was accepted into the AYA program my sophomore year. I went for a year and lived with a French family (they did not speak any English) in the city of Tours, France. It was the best experience of my life. I traveled throughout France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and Greece during that year; sometimes with other students and sometimes by myself. While in Greece, I was bit by the love bug and stayed in an apartment in Patras for a few months to see what would become of my European romance. I had many adventures and saw so many beautiful places, but he was not my Ulysses!
When I returned to Ohio, I moved into La Maison Française (an all French-speaking dorm on campus). I became the group’s President and organized events for French exchange students, musical performances, Monte Carlo night, French pastry bake sales, etc. It was great fun! During my year abroad, I had accumulated enough credits to graduate in 3.5 years with a BA in French and Italian. I received the French student of the Year award, was inducted into the French Honor Society, Pi Delta Phi, and then received a graduate assistantship in French and taught French 101 at the university.
While pursuing my Master’s degree in French, I met my future husband. He was a German major and had studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria. We met while planning events for foreign exchange students. We decided to make a move to Houston, where we thought we were getting jobs in the import/export business. That did not materialize, so I got a job at Neiman-Marcus, in their couture salon, where I was able to put my love of fashion, French and Italian to good use. I met many major couturiers, such as Gianni Versace, Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld, and Jean-Paul Gaulthier, to name a few. I was able to help with the fashion shows and participate in a couple, as well. It was an exciting time, but very high pressured and not the right fit for me. My husband and I returned to Ohio to get married and eventually went to The Ohio State University to pursue a Master’s degree in Linguistics, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and Second Language Acquisition. On a whim, we decided to go to a job fair at the university. There were many recruiters looking for teachers for all over the world. The recruiters from Broward County, Florida approached us because we were wearing name tags that showed the languages we spoke (I had French, Italian and English and my husband had German, Spanish and English). My husband was offered the job first to teach in Ft. Lauderdale and I was hired afterwards to teach 1st Grade to Haitian students.
I loved the teaching job and the students. It was so rewarding, but emotionally draining. I received the Teacher of the Year 2 years in a row and declined the nomination the 3rd time. Additionally, I served as Department Chair for grades one and two, helped write the summer school curriculum for the ESOL program and taught ESOL classes to teachers. I received a full scholarship from Florida Atlantic University for a Master’s in Teaching, which I actually completed! Third time’s the charm!
After 6 years of teaching, we moved to Hernando County, Florida. My mother passed away at a young age from breast cancer and we wanted to move closer to my father. We got jobs in the same high school; I taught French 1, 2, 3, 4 and Advanced Placement and my husband taught German and ESOL. During my 10 years of high school teaching, I sponsored the French Club, started a French Honor Society, planned French activities throughout the year and took students and their parents all over Europe, during the summers and spring break. I took 20 students to the state French competition each year, where they continuously earned top accolades for listening, speaking, reading, writing, poetry presentation, cultural knowledge and theatrical adaptations. I received Teacher of the Year at this school, as well as serving as the Department Chair for the World Languages Department.
At the end of 10 years, my husband and I got the moving bug again and decided to move to Austria. We have friends there and my German is passable, so we pulled up stakes, gave away our belongings and left for Austria. We were there for only a couple of months, working on the residency permits, when my husband developed some health issues which necessitated our return to the states.
After returning to Florida, I got a job teaching English to adult Haitian construction workers. They were amazing and so enjoyable to teach. I also taught English to Cubans and French for Business and Travelers, all while regrouping for our next adventure!
The next adventure took us to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where my husband had an old Army friend who owned a real estate company. I worked there as a realtor and office manager and also joined the local Alliance Française to keep up my language skills. While at a conversation group one day, I was asked if I wanted to teach any French classes. I said, “ Pourquoi pas?!” I started with 1 adult and 1 children’s class. Every semester the number of classes and private students increased. The classes had between 5-10 students maximum and I taught all levels of French in person and online; Introduction to French, False Beginners, Beginning I, II, Intermediate I, II, III, Advanced I, II, French for Travelers, French for Children, French Music and French Reading. My students were between the ages of 4-94! During this time, I also served as a member of the Board of Directors for the non-profit Alliance Française d’ Albuquerque. Our goal was to promote the French language and culture. During the year, we planned events, such as an Open House for the school, Bastille Day, Beaujolais Nouveau and Noel parties, crêpe making, immersion weekends, music parties, French films, wine tastings and game days.
After 12 years in the high desert, we decided to come full circle and return to Ohio, where I still have some family. While deciding what to do, I began teaching French online and substituting for French teachers in local schools. It was at this moment that my husband asked why I didn’t just start my own French business. So, that's how Penelope Speaks French got started in 2019, with the help of the Small Business Development Center at Lorain County Community College.
And then along came COVID-19! That's where it got interesting! I was already teaching French online, so I was poised and ready to take on all kinds of classes and new students via Zoom, Skype, and Google Meets, so my business got a great boost while everyone was home, looking for ways to keep their minds active amidst the madness of the pandemic.
Fast forward to 2022 and a round of sad news, with the passing of some family members and our two beloved greyhounds. At this point, we decided to do what we love the most and that is to travel. We sold our house, our belongings and moved to France, and that's where the fun really started! So, if you are still reading up until now, you must be a glutton for punishment or you are truly wondering what kind of a strange person I am to have moved so many times during my life. I'm always looking for the next adventure and I think I found it here in France!
If you'd like to know more or you want to take a class, private lessons, or design your own French-themed event, just let me know! I'm always ready for something new and I love meeting new people from all over the world. Allons-y! Let's go and get started!