Sound Bites - Issue #5 / January 2014
Community Education's Premiere Online Magazine
In This Issue:
- Happy New Year – See Our Exciting Plans for 2014!
- What's New...
- “Live Well” This Year with Fitness & Healthy Eating
- Margaret Drach: Performing Small Miracles
Happy New Year – See Our Exciting Plans for 2014!
Career & Contract Ed.
The New Year is a great time to introduce some exciting new changes at Community Education – foremost among them is our plan to expand “work skills” and ”career development” courses this year.
We plan to launch a separate “Professional Development” Community Ed catalog in which we will be offering classes as part of several certificate programs (some of which are professional certificates) in such areas as online marketing, public works project construction, office/computers, and social media. The focus of the offerings in the catalog will be to assist individuals with gaining new skills for finding work or advancing their careers.
With “Update Your Skills” as our theme, we also offer many online skills training certificate programs.
As a final note, we will be expanding the employment training courses that are offered to adults and dislocated workers, some of whom may be eligible for state employment training funds that can cover the cost of the classes. Watch for our “Professional Development” Community Ed catalog, which will soon be available online in the Spring.
To register, call (310) 434-3400 or go to http://commed.smc.edu.
Our sincerest wishes for a very happy new year!
Director of Career & Contract Education
Community & Contract Education
As SMC Community Education’s vibrant Winter Session get under way, it is also looking ahead to an even heartier Spring Semester – with more than 170 classes, workshops and tours, including several new offerings. Online registration for both sessions is now open and spring classes begin Feb. 18.
“Whatever your interest, we have the class for you,” said Alice Meyering, Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education. “From art to Zumba, we’ll help keep your body, mind and creative expression healthy and challenged.”
Meyering said the program is particularly pleased to offer two new day tours – to Cachuma Lake in the winter and Downtown Pasadena with tea lunch in the spring – as well as “Prevailing Wage: Tips You Need Before You Bid,” which debuts our series on “Secrets of Public Works Projects Series," designed to prepare contractors to successfully bid on public works, which begins Jan. 11.
In addition, she said, the program is grouping together some of its course offerings into series of classes, including the “Organic Living Series,” composed of “Organic Gardening” and “Intro to Healthy Eating,” as well as “Jumpstart Your Career Series,” which would enhance any career-searching effort with “Social Media for Job Seekers” and “MS Word and MS Excel for the Job Market.”
Other new classes this spring include “Landscape Painting,” “Resin Jewelry,” “Cookie Bouquets,” and “Yin Yoga.” And looking ahead to the summer, Community Education is offering several new summer camps for youth ages 12 to 17.
“And if that weren’t enough, we will have an extensive collection of Professional Development classes in spring,” Meyering said. These courses are in many disciplines, including business and finance, health professions, social work, entrepreneurship, and more.
Particularly notable are the real estate courses, which will pave the way for a successful career in the red-hot Southern California housing market, she said.
“Live Well” This Year with Fitness & Healthy Eating
SMC Community Education is an excellent place to go to help you keep
your New Year’s resolutions to get back into shape after the holidays
or to pump up your fitness level.
The Winter Session, which just began, has six Fitness and Relaxation classes to pick from – including Yoga, Low Back Strength and Stretching, and Zumba Toning. And you can sign up now for an even greater offering of such courses in the Spring Session, including a brand new class in Yin Yoga.
Hewing to our “Living Well” theme for the new year, Community Education is also aware that good nutrition is as important as exercise for overall health. To that end, we are offering this spring an “Intro to Healthy Eating” class, as well as “Basic Organic Gardening” that can help you grow some of your own food.
To register, call (310) 434-3400 or go to http://commed.smc.edu.
Margaret Drach: Performing Small Miracles
“Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it.”
– Christopher Morley
Dr. Margaret Drach is living proof that Christopher Morley was wrong, even as he spoke metaphorically.
The SMC Community Education instructor has proven that teaching correct pronunciation is not only an effective method to learn French, it is also a way to improve your life. And as to her own life – again metaphorically – she might have stumbled occasionally on some mispronunciation, but her talents and experiences demonstrate how extraordinary it has been.
Drach’s litany of achievements is staggering: a Ph.D. from Harvard and a doctorate from the Sorbonne; the ability to speak nine languages, most of them self-taught; a series of globetrotting music and singing gigs that took her from Paris nightclubs to the Catskills to the Caribbean; and an academic career that included teaching at Hunter College, the United Nations and – for 20 years – SMC Community Education. All of this, despite a poor immigrant background.
Born in Czechoslovakia of Hungarian Jewish parents, Drach lived and went to school in Paris for six years before her mother and two sisters immigrated to Los Angeles when she was 16.
“Los Angeles was an intellectual desert at the time,” she said. “It couldn’t have been further from Paris so I was not particularly happy. But I really took to the weather.”
What drew the Drach family to Los Angeles were the climate and dreams of Hollywood. They were a musical family – her father was an opera singer and Drach and her sisters were also musicians and singers at a young age. But, like so many other immigrants to California, their dreams of musical fame were not realized.
Instead, Drach went to work at 16 as a “dummy girl” at Pacific Mutual Life Insurance, distributing mail on a “dummy elevator” to employees.
“What was so strange here is everyone smiles, whereas in Paris, they were very serious,” she recalls. “Every time I came along with the mail, smiles would light up.”
Drach quickly worked her way up the company ladder – to file clerk, typist, stenographer and eventually executive secretary.
After that, she went to Israel for a year before attending the University of California, Berkeley on a scholarship. From there it was Harvard for a doctorate in philosophy.
Not particularly passionate about the study of philosophy, Drach returned to Paris to pursue her first love: French. There, she was awarded a doctorate with honors in French Linguistics from the esteemed Sorbonne.
Meanwhile, she was pursuing her other passion: music. While at Harvard, she spent summers singing in the Catskills during the heyday of Jewish resorts in the upstate New York area. She sang in nightclubs in Israel, on ocean liners that took her to France, on cruise ships to the Caribbean, in Russian nightclubs in Paris.
“On the one hand I was at the university, on the other hand I was a French chanteuse,” she said.
After four years in Paris, she headed to New York, teaching French at Hunter College and the United Nations for six years.
“I loved teaching at Hunter and the U.N.,” she said. “But I couldn’t stand New York, the climate was killing me.”
So, she headed back to L.A. to be near her family and to enjoy the Southern California climate she loved so much.
Thus began an itinerant academic career that included teaching philosophy at campuses including UCLA, Cal State L.A., Cal State Northridge and University of California, Santa Barbara.
During this time, she published an article in the prestigious Philosophical Review (which accepts only about 2 percent of submissions) that was critical of icon philosopher Noam Chomsky.
But she longed to get back to teaching French and ended up at UCLA Extension for many years. By then, in addition to French and English, she spoke Hungarian, Hebrew, German, Yiddish, Spanish and Italian – most of them self-taught. But as if that were not enough, she audited a Japanese class at SMC taught by Makiko Fujiwara.
“And one of the students there mentioned, ‘Why don’t you teach at SMC Extension (now Community Education)?’” Drach said.
Twenty years later, she is still at SMC and loving it. In fact, her students helped her get through the pain and sadness when her husband of 23 years died in 2012.
“My class is always very joyous, very happy,” she said. “And that’s what saved me.”
Her students echo that sentiment.
“Professor Drach makes the class fun,” said student Diane Bass. “She uses mixed media like excerpts from French TV shows and the news. We discuss the events of the week, have conversations, and even sing. Our class has developed a group spirit. The course has been an enjoyable and challenging learning experience.”
Says Drach, “I look forward to my classes and don’t know what I’d do without them. I enjoy the students and sometimes I perform small miracles.”
When you were teaching at Hunter College you had a star student who was top in her class and could read and writes French fluently but refused to speak the language. Tell us about the student and how this illustrates your approach to teaching French?
Just before the first phonetics class, one of the senior professors came to me and told me she was sending me her protégée and star student - a young woman about 27 years old – who was about to graduate with a major in French but would not speak – she just refused to speak it. Even in those days, with the emphasis being on reading and writing and literature, it was highly unusual for a student not to speak the language. The professor begged me to see if there was anything I could do for her.
The phonetics class was a big success, and among my many rewards was the fact that this young woman gradually started to speak. It was not for nothing that she was a star student: she was a perfectionist, and wouldn’t do anything unless she knew what she was doing and that she was doing it right. In my class, she discovered that there were rules for how to pronounce French, just as there are rules of grammar, and though they are challenging, they are far from impossible to master. In all her years of undergraduate studies, no one bothered to tell her that there were such rules or to explain them. At the end the professor came to thank me profusely, saying she didn’t know how I had done it, and it all ended well.
What do you hope your students will come away with?
Exactly what they came for: An ability to speak French - and be understood when they speak it - and to understand it when spoken by native speakers. Or rather, since this is a beginning course, a solid foundation that will start them on the right path toward that goal.
I came to realize from my many years of teaching that instruction in pronunciation is sorely lacking in traditional French courses. The example of the student at Hunter was an extreme case, but a modified version of it cropped up all through my years of teaching. Time and again, as we were conversing, the students would say: “Ecrivez, s'il vous plaît!,” prompting me to write on the board the word or phrase I was saying, so they could understand it. After I did so, there was usually no problem, as invariably it turned out to be a word they “knew,” that is, had learned. Indeed, it was often one of the innumerable words that are the same, and spelled the same way, in French as in English, only of course pronounced differently. And let's face it: quite differently.
It is such experiences that convinced me that a serious and systematic introduction to pronunciation – on a par with, or even more important than, grammar and vocabulary – should be part of any beginning course in French, so that students can get off to a good start right from the beginning.
In my experience, most students learn French to speak it - not just to read or write it - and over and above the necessity of being understood and of understanding when spoken to, there is a great deal of pleasure that comes from sounding as native-like as possible.
We have all heard motivational speakers telling us that we can acquire any habit we wish by repeating it a certain number of times (I think 21 was the magic number, the last time I heard the claim.) Unfortunately it also works for bad habits; as my experience working with advanced students has shown, it is extremely difficult to undo years of bad habits in pronunciation – all the more reason to incorporate it right at the beginning. And so that is what I do.
Why do you suppose that the teaching of pronunciation is not normally taught on a par with grammar and vocabulary?
Frankly, I don't know! It has been a great mystery to me, throughout my years of teaching, that this most important aspect of learning French is usually the least emphasized. This is true whether in traditional courses in high school or college, or in practical language schools or language courses on CDs, which promise that, in no time, you will be speaking like a native because the teachers are all native speakers and all you have to do is “imitate” the way they sound – and voilà – you too will sound like them. Would that it were that simple.
I think this view – or wishful thinking – comes from a misconception of the way language is learned by adults. While it is true of children that they can acquire any language until the age of puberty and speak it like a native, simply by “imitating” what they hear, adults learn a second language the way they learn any other subject: by understanding what they have to do, and then practicing it.
It's hard to overestimate the benefit of explicitly making the student aware, right from the beginning, of distinctions between sounds in French that it is essential for the student to “hear” in order not to mistake one word for the other – and similarly, teaching the student to make the distinction in speaking, so that he/she will be understood.
What are the rewards for you as an instructor?
Pure joy. I love what I am doing and, even after all these years, every class is different and so allows me to be creative. What I enjoy is the collaborative enterprise of a group of people of diverse backgrounds, different walks of life, varying talent, different reasons for wanting to learn French (whether it is because their spouses are French, or for travel, or because they find it beautiful and have always dreamed of speaking it some day). All are engaged in learning together under my guidance something they very much want to learn.
And what matters to me is what I can do for each of them to help them in their efforts. I am just as thrilled when someone who has a hard time understanding some rule or getting a sound right, finally gets it, as when someone who is very talented attains spectacular results. And I think students sense this, and so inhibitions are at a minimum, as everyone is rooting for everyone else.
I love to challenge students – and I think most students enjoy being challenged – but I never judge them. That's one of the reasons I love teaching at SMC Community Education. I don't want to have to grade students. I don't want to impose anything on them that they don't willingly – and sometimes eagerly – want to do.
Tell us an anecdote about your students and what they have gained from your class.
I have many anecdotes that students have volunteered over the years of humorous or embarrassing situations that their misuse or mispronunciation of some words have gotten them into, or actual humorous exchanges that I myself have had with otherwise advanced students because of their mispronunciation of some words. One I often tell in my classes was told by an advanced student, with a lot of grammar under his belt, who was served two coffees in a French café and when telling the waiter he only wanted one coffee, the waiter protested that he had said “two” coffees [“deux cafés”]. My student, who was slightly pedantic, explained to the waiter that he had actually said “some” coffee [“du” café], adding (in French): “I used the partitive article” [“j'ai utilisé le partitif”]. And the waiter, who had probably never heard of “le partitif,” repeated with characteristic French sarcasm: “Ah, le partitif!”
Why do Americans have such a difficult time pronouncing and “hearing” French words?
It all has to do with the vowels. Consonants are not a problem. Half of the vowels of French do not exist in English, and moreover they are close enough “acoustically” to each other that English speakers do not hear the difference between them until it is pointed out to them. This can usually be accomplished quite quickly, but it has to be done. Once the difference is heard, the student has to be trained in how to pronounce the sound, and at that point imitation can play a useful role.
You take a “sound by sound” approach to your classes. Explain.
Unlike conventional classes, where you begin with simple grammatical forms, or simple phrases, and you gradually build up to more complex ones, instead I have my students build up their ability to say things sound by sound. We start with the simplest and most common sound, and make sentences with just that one sound, and gradually, add one sound at a time, so that we will never say anything until we have practiced each sound involved in saying it.
Do you have any “heroes” or people you admire?
Like most people, I of course have my share of famous people I admire, but in the context of what we have been talking about, I have a lot of admiration for the occasional student who is not particularly talented at learning French, does not seem very promising, and whom I may see sporadically over the years in one course or another, who has stuck with it through the years, perhaps in other courses, with other teachers; and lo and behold, each time I see them, they are a little better, and sometimes spectacularly better. That kind of doggedness really touches me and I feel thrilled, and I think how thrilled he or she must be. And I tell myself: “She did it! She persevered and she did it!” As the French say: “Chapeau!” [Hats off/well done!]
Dr. Margaret Drach will be presenting a one day class on January 18, The Sound of French--A Workshop in Pronunciation - no previous knowledge of French needed.