Parlez Vous Francais?
Ever thought about learning a new language? Parlez vous Francais? Perhaps you’re planning a trip to the city of light in 2018 or at some point in the future. I know I’m always thinking about my next trip to France! There’s no better time to learn French than maintenant.
Back in the summer, Coucou, one of the two French-only language schools in New York City, invited TDC to check out their school and take a free trial class. Of course, I couldn’t turn down another opportunity to study and practice my French!
It was time I put on my beret and head out to see what Coucou was all about. Upon arriving to their SoHo location at Fueled, Manhattan, I was greeted by the lovely Marianne, a Parisian native and one of the co-founders of Coucou. She greeted me with the sweetest Bonjour I’ve ever heard and I instantly knew I was going to enjoy Marianne’s company.
Make yourself at home
We took the elevator up to the 4th floor where she brought me to the 18,000 square foot co-working office space. “Can I get you a coffee or tea?” she asked. Coucou students get to enjoy all the amenities at Fueled, including a snack bar, a community kitchen with free tea and coffee, fresh popcorn, an ice cream truck, a ping pong table and more. But the biggest perk of all might be the beautiful views over the New York City skyline!
Before my lesson, I took some time to sit with Marianne on one of the many comfy couches to enjoy a cup of tea together and learn more about how the school started, what they have to offer, and where to go for some of the best cheese in NYC. Make sure to read the interview below to find out where she sent me!
Learning a language is not for everybody, but if you’re up for the challenge and want to have some fun while doing it, then Coucou is the French language school for you!
Paris meets New York
Ashley: What brought you to New York?
Marianne: I was traveling in the US 4 ½ years ago when my cousin Lea asked me to help her to open Coucou. I was living in Berlin and working in the music industry at that time, but I’ve always been interested in literature and languages so it was not a stretch to move on to teaching languages.
A: Why do you think New York is an ideal place to start a business, specifically a French culture/language school?
M: New York is so big; no matter how niche your business is, you’ll find an audience for it. There’s a long standing relationship between NY and Paris and we love each other and the exchange between the two.
A family affair
A: What made you want to jump on board with your cousin to create Coucou?
M: Learning a language is both an intellectual and a social activity. It’s fun to teach and interact with my students while promoting French language and culture in the US. This was a goal for me.
A: What makes Coucou different than other language schools?
M: Besides the French Institute Alliance Francaise, we are the only language school in NYC that offers French exclusively and all of our teachers are native speakers. We focus heavily on French culture in teaching the language. This helps the students to appreciate the culture too.
We cap our group classes to 9 people. It’s super important for us to keep our groups small so it allows the teachers to give more attention to each individual student and the opportunity to develop personal relationships with them.
A: As a teacher of English myself, I know the value in that. How did you create the curriculum you have now?
M: We wrote our own curriculum guides for every level that are fun and easy to follow. Each week’s lesson and homework is scheduled so if a student misses a class, they can catch up easily and make sure they don’t miss anything. The activities are playful and engaging, but the main focus of our classes is on conversation. In class, we don’t want students looking at a booklet. Students can go over everything at their own time. All of our teachers are trained using this method.
A: What do you offer in the way of French cultural events outside of the classroom?
M: One of our teachers, Pia, organizes immersive french outings such as trips to a French opera, play or film premiere or dinner at an Algerian/Moroccan restaurant in Williamsburg to discuss the legacy of North Africa and French culture. We’ve celebrated Mardi Gras and Bastille Day with our students at our headquarters in Brooklyn.
A: How can people who are interested in your classes know if it’s the right fit for them?
M: Prospective students can come in for a trial class to see how they like it and which level is right for them. We have a lot of students who sign up after their free trial.
A: I’ve tried learning French a few times. What makes the Coucou method stick?
M: We make our classes fun and if the students are enjoying themselves and associate language learning with something positive, they are more likely to retain the information. After a long day of work, students are tired and not necessarily motivated, so we make sure the class is energetic, otherwise we’re just going to lose them.
We also focus on spoken French over formal written French. We teach grammar in a thorough way, there’s no bypassing that, but it can be done in a fun way.
Students can enjoy a little bit of wine in class and that boosts students’ confidence. If I’m being honest that’s how I learned to be confident speaking English when I was studying in London for University. Moderation is key, but a glass of wine definitely helps!
A: Where can I sign up?
A: What advice would you give to a beginner learning French?
M: Check your expectations. You can’t expect to magically know French in 2 weeks. It all depends on what you’re willing to put into it. Learning a language is a lifelong venture and if you make it part of your daily life by seeking out additional learning materials, then it will be better for you. We’re happy to recommend podcasts you can listen to or tv shows you can watch.
It’s kind of like going to the gym. If it becomes a chore, you’re just going to stop going. But if it’s something you want to do then you’ll be in good shape.
Also, don’t compare yourself to other students. For example, if you have a background in music you may be really good with pronunciation. Whereas, another student may not be as good at pronunciation, but has a better understanding of grammar.
Focus on your own progress and don’t compare yourself to others.
Go to Paris!
A: How confident can someone who completes your course feel about their ability to get around in Paris?
M: What we do in a weekly class is give you tools to feel more confident speaking French, but ultimately you’ll need to spend some time in a French speaking country if you want to practice more and that’s when its all going to make sense.
Some students get frustrated when they go to Paris and people speak to them in English, but when they manage to have a conversation or if they successfully manage to order in a restaurant, that’s when they’re satisfied and excited to keep going.
But if you really want to get good, you should have an immersive experience in a French speaking country.
A: What kind of community have you built at Coucou?
M: My wish has already been fulfilled. We have the most amazing, talented, and creative people who are cultured and curious about the world. My job is amazing in that I get to speak to so many interesting people. How lucky are we?
A: Do students get together outside of class?
M: We may get a drink after class or get together outside of class for a study group. The social aspect cannot be understated and this was the biggest surprise for us running the business. Students realize how important it is to get together and speak French with people outside of their circle. Talking in another language makes them more open. It gets personal and the conversations are very interesting. So many people have told us how they are grateful they are, how they look forward to it, and have met great friends through it.
What else should I know?
A: What course levels are offered and how long does a course last?
M: We have levels 1-7, from beginner all the way to conversational. We’ve had motivated and dedicated students who started in level 1 and are now in a conversational group.
Classes are 8 weeks long. After one level is complete, the next level starts after one or two more weeks. We encourage people in the lower levels to keep going. We don’t want students to risk losing momentum once they’re on a roll with the language.
A: What is the future of Cou Cou?
M: We just launched in Coucou in LA. One of our first teachers in NY, Margo, just moved there a year ago and is starting the program there as well as giving lessons at the Netflix office there.
A: I can’t leave without asking you one more thing. In your Parisian opinion, where can a girl get the best French delights here in New York?
M: Well that’s hard to say and I get asked that a lot, but whenever I have a craving for good French cheese I go to Murray’s. They have a great selection. And Bien Cuit in Cobble Hill has very nice pain au chocolat and croissants.
A: I will definitely be making a stop there on my next visit. (Review to come on le blog!)
I want to thank Coucou for inviting me in to check out their classes. The warm welcome I felt from Marianne and Pia excited me to continue learning French with them. If you’re looking to challenge yourself and have some fun while doing it, start to learn French with Coucou; you won’t be disappointed.
Check out their locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Los Angeles.