Interview: Kerstin Hammes Cable on Learning French and Overcoming Obstacles

Kerstin Hammes Cable runs the Fluent Language blog, has created her own video course about French grammar and also self-published books about language learning. Kerstin’s native language is German and she’s always on a mission to make complicated things a little more simple as a coach for language learners and teachers.

In today’s interview, she talks about the challenges she faces as a French learners, gives useful tips to succeed and explains why she decided to work as a language coach.

Can you start by introducing yourself for French Together readers?

Sure! My name is Kerstin, I grew up in Germany but I’ve been living in the UK since 2003. I’m passionate about languages, development and learning. I teach online, both in live lessons and online courses.

My connection with the French language has always been very strong, and I’ve been studying French for over 20 years! It was my second foreign language and the one I always worked hard to maintain.

What are the biggest challenges you faced as a French learner?

To me, one of the biggest challenges in French was to maintain and improve the level I was at continuously through life.

Both in school and in adult education, it takes a conscious decision to say “I’m going to keep studying this language”, and that’s what I committed to at many occasions in life.

French was not as easy to learn as English. It has some challenging grammar structures and it’s not quite as culturally dominant in the world. So resisting the temptation to quit was probably my biggest challenge.

How did you overcome those challenges?

Every time you make a mistake, you have an opportunity to learn why you made that particular mistake. You are given a chance to get better.

Once I learnt this, the challenge of commitment became easier and I cheerfully took on the position of lifelong learner. I never set any high expectations on myself to perform extremely well, instead I continuously plugged away and never gave up.

To give you an example, I trained as a “multilingual secretary” when I was 20 years old. The course involved French dictation, translations, summary challenges and phone conversations.

It was scored very strictly, to the point where one missed apostrophe on a feminine word would mean you failed to get the top grades.

If I had held myself to the high standards that I see some language learners trying to achieve, I would have never passed that course. Instead, I learnt how to adopt a positive approach.

You created a French grammar course? Why do you think grammar is so important?

Ever tried to learn French without grammar rules? I can’t imagine it – I’d have questions about everything! What I think is important is to take the right approach to grammar – I like to think of it as the answer to all the questions that language learning makes you ask. It’s not the guide that marches you through a boring tour, but the one that gives a really cool explanation when you point at something and ask what it is.

What was important to me about making a grammar course was to create a resource that is not intimidating.

In the course, I sit on the windowsill, I play some nice music and I explain the basics. There’s no judgement on the learner, instead they can learn at their own level.

I wanted to have something for others that I found helpful to myself, which was to put foreign grammar in your own language context to help understand its purpose.

How and why did you decide to become a language coach? Why did you create Fluent Language?

When I started Fluent, I had just had to take a long absence from a job that I used to love. I needed to find something I was passionate about and looked to languages, something I had always studied and loved.

The blog always had an encouraging, coach-like perspective and over time I learnt more about the challenges that independent language learners face.

I love supporting adults in their language learning challenges. There’s something inspiring to me about the way you can beat any excuse – you’re not too old, you’re not too forgetful, you’re not too busy or poor. It’s possible to learn a language, and I want to help others do it.

Kerstin Hammes FrenchIf you only had one tip to give to French learners, what would it be?

Don’t feel as though you have to learn everything at once, and think of your French learning process as the long game. You’ll be fluent very soon, but don’t wait for it. Instead, study little and often, go out into the world and speak, and don’t listen to anyone that deducts you 12 points for “grammar mistakes”.

Over to you

Got a question or something you would like to share? Post in the comment section below this article!

If you struggle with French grammar, check out Kerstin’s grammar course on Teachable and read her excellent post: How To Learn French Grammar Without Tearing Your Hair Out.

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Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn conversational French.