As a native of Santa Monica, French instructor Harriette McCauley attended schools in the Santa Monica Unified School District. After receiving an Associate of Arts degree from Santa Monica College, Harriette decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps. After leaving the Marine Corps, she attended California State University, Northridge, soon thereafter. Because of her outstanding grades, she qualified for the Dean’s List, in the Junior Year Abroad program and was chosen to attend college in Aix-en-Provence, France.

After returning home, Harriette completed her B.A. and M.A. in French/Spanish, as well as continuing her courses in Theatre Arts and the Credential Program for Secondary Education. She was offered a position at the Consulate of France, Los Angeles, honing her abilities to practice speaking, interpreting and translating French. Since then, she has been developing and teaching French classes. She teaches “Beginning Conversational French for Travelers,” Level I and Level II at SMC Community Ed.

What do you like about teaching at Community Ed?

The programs Community Ed offers, and the support I receive from Alice Meyering, Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education, and all of the staff, and the freedom I am allowed to develop and teach the classes – they have been marvelous.  And, I met Director of Career & Contract Education Michelle King and see the work she does to support the staff. I salute what they do. Just marvelous.  I see this particular class (“Beginning French for Travelers”) as being “organic.” It has structure but it unfolds according to the makeup of the attendees. Everyone is not going to Paris only, if at all. They may be visiting France or countries where French is spoken, so we focus on those things. These classes are like a “spark. There is a painting of God and Adam (“The Creation of Adam”) on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Italy that people are familiar with. As God reaches out to Adam, their hands/fingers don’t touch, but you get the sense that there is a “spark” of life between them that flows from one to the other, where the “life” of something begins. I hope my class is like that for the people who attend: a “spark.” Because each class is only for six weeks generally, I want it to “spark” the interest of those who attend to continue on in other classes where they can meet and greet other students, or immerse themselves in another language or pursue other possibilities.

What kinds of students do you have?

All kinds, all ages, all ethnicities. At SMC Community Ed, the age range has been 17 to 70’s-plus. They are either planning a trip, usually very soon after the class or they are thinking about planning a trip in the near future or they are exploring the possibility of a trip, or they are just interested in the language.

Briefly describe your year abroad studying at university in Aix? What was the name of the school/university? What was the experience like?

The California State Universities has a program they are/were involved with in Aix at L’Institut pour les Étrangers. It is a school for foreign students. Other colleges from the U.S. and other places also send their students there. There was also the Faculté des Lettres, Aix-Marseilles, which are equal to the UC campuses here. Brave students attended some of those classes and I took two classes there. I didn’t speak much, but listened a lot and learned a great deal. I was a theatre/film major here at CSUN and only picked up language as a major when I returned. So my focus was on theatre and film. We had to take the regular grammar, history, etc. classes in French, but were encouraged to take higher ed classes at the university.  My two were “Cineaste Jean Cocteau” and “Cinematic Film Phenomenon.”

Do you go to France often?

Every other year at least. I would like to make it a yearly event if I can. I go to immerse myself in the language and pick up new and current things that are happening. It changes so quickly. I usually stay with friends just outside of Paris.

What do you like about the French language?

The “drama.” It is a dramatic language (and I was a theatre/drama student in college, as well as a member of a theatre company in Hollywood). All of the nuances, the rhythms, the sounds, the linking of sounds, the structure – it is highly structured. French is “vocal gymnastics.” In my opinion, it is a “whole body experience.”

What is your idea of a perfect day?

Waking up in a “portion” of my right mind (smile).  That gives me the opportunity to make some wise choices for the day.

What is one of the best compliments you ever received?

There are so many. In recent times, two of the students in my French class at another community college went on a long trip in France. They drove and visited a lot of places, some not so much touristy. When they returned, they sent me the most marvelous compliment. They told me they were able to navigate their way through their trip with few or no problems. Without using their names, here is the compliment they sent to me:

“We are soooo happy we took your “French for Travelers” class! We understood much of what we heard and were able to use simple phrases without inducing laughter or blank looks. The trip was great – we drove about 6,000 kilometers and enjoyed the different regions with their food specialties and architecture. The people were wonderful and appreciated our attempts to speak French. Thank you!”

But there are so many like this I’ve received in the past – this was the recent one.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Rappel off the side of a mountain.

Is there any thing you would like to add?

About my year in Aix: I learned how much French I did NOT know or speak when we arrived in Nice on our way to Aix. It freaked me out! I didn’t speak much for about a month – I just nodded or shook my head, whichever was appropriate at the time, especially in the dorms. I found that when we as American students spoke in French just among us, we reinforced a lot of mistakes; we needed to have French students/people to be in the mix if we really wanted to learn. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a French family who lived in a village about 35 minutes outside of Aix. Their youngest daughter, age 13, was taking an English class and needed tutoring. No one in that family spoke English, no one (except for the eldest daughter who spoke a little British English – there is a difference; the French will tell you.). It was the best thing that ever happened for me. They actually adopted me as one of their own. I spent weekends with them, went on vacation with them, and really learned to speak the language. When/As I began to notice that I was dreaming in French at times, I realized that I had arrived. The mom in the family even complimented me on that fact just before I was to leave and come back home.

And, as a result of my time abroad, I decided to complete my studies in French, earning a B.A. and M.A. in French with a minor in Spanish. I’m still working on a degree in Theatre (it can take forever). I also was able to work at the French Consulate in Los Angeles soon after my graduation. I was in charge of visas for non-French citizens. That was a plus. It was like being back in France. This helped/inspired me in developing the “French for Travelers” class that I would later teach.

Harriette McCauley will teach Beginning Conversational French for Travelers – Level 2 beginning April 21.

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