French at the Institut de Touraine
Would you like to learn French from scratch? Do you need to broaden your language skills in a certain area? Either way the Institut de Touraine is the place to go. For more than two years HSE students and staff members have been visiting Tours to take various language courses. In an interview with the HSE News Service, Britta Vincent, the institute’s director for international relations, talks about studying French in the heart of the famous Loire Valley.
— Madame Vincent, for those who are not familiar with the Institut de Touraine could you tell us a bit about its history?
— The Institut de Touraine is the oldest institute in France and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. Originally it was a very small institute set up by a French professor in Tours and only Englishmen came across the channel to study there. Every year we have been growing, we have had about 200,000 students since then, and we are still here which goes to show that we offer high quality language courses. The French government has given us its mark of approval as well - the institute has been granted a “Qualité Français Langue Etrangère” (FLE) label. We only teach French as a foreign language and we have students from all over the world -- about 2,500 per year, and 80 different nationalities - some Russians but not many so we are very happy to be cooperating with HSE. We would like to invite more Russian students because we like to mix different cultures. We think it is important for our students to learn and speak French in an international atmosphere.
— What kind of language skills do students need to be eligible for your courses?
— We teach students at every level so if a student doesn’t speak French at all he/she could start learning it with us. We have specific starting dates for students of this kind. Russians usually like to come in summer, in July or August, the courses last for three or four weeks mostly but you could choose any course duration you like. Your level doesn’t matter.
— Does one need to pass any preliminary tests?
— There is an online test which helps to evaluate the level of your written French. On the day of arrival in Tours you take an oral test as well. This way we can decide which class would suit you best.
— What teaching techniques do you use? How do courses differentiate one from another?
— We have general courses and specific courses. Our teachers are very experienced. We are based in a historical building but we use all the modern technologies available in teaching -- electronic whiteboards, for instance. We are close to the Université de Tours which is our supervisor and provides another guarantee of the quality of our programs. In fact, we’ll get even closer to the Université de Tours in 2013 as we will have joint diplomas.
General French courses are offered in the morning, and in the afternoon we have classes for those who’d like to learn specialized French -- from grammar and literature to international tourism and medicine, all depending on the student’s level of knowledge. Everything can be adapted to suit the students’ choices. We also have media labs, a media center and a library where students can work independently.
— Students are not the only ones who can study in Tours. Your institute offers courses designed specifically for teachers...
— Yes, along with general and specific courses for students we also have courses for teachers of French. These courses cover methodological and cultural aspects in teaching and are offered every year in July and August -- two- or four-week courses in July and a two-week course in August. The teachers come together from all over the world forming international classes which is a great way to share the experience, get new ideas and learn about different approaches to teaching.
I’d also like to highlight that the Institut de Touraine is a certified exam center, that’s an important point for the students. We have an exam calendar, specific dates for DELF, DALF and TEF. And you don’t have to take exams in France -- you can make all the preparations in Tours but sit them when you come back to Russia if you wish.
— How do you get to Tours? What can students do there besides studying?
— During the presentation on the day of arrival we introduce all the activities available for our students. The institute is situated in the Loire Valley -- an area famous for its castles. It’s only 55 minutes by TGV - the fast train from Paris. Students from all over the world want to see Paris, of course, and they can easily go there for a weekend. Getting to our institute is very simple - there is a direct train from Charles de Gaulle international airport, then to Tours. The journey takes 1 hour 40 minutes, so it’s very convenient.
Touraine is an area with a great gastronomy. We have very good wine, very good food. We offer excursions within the Loire Valley and to other parts of France (Mont Saint-Michel, for instance) and various workshops, cooking lessons, wine tasting and cheese tasting as well. So, there are lots of things to do and I know the students really enjoy it.
In addition, there is the Education Valley which is a partnership between the Institut de Touraine and the Université de Tours with the cosmetic school (Ecole d’esthétique-cosmétique de Tours) , the ESCEM school of business and management, the pharmaceutical school of Groupe IMT and the school of design (Ecole Brassart). We are a group of top quality schools situated in Tours and we promote our programs together. So if there are HSE students who’d like to study not only French but also management we can provide this opportunity via our partners. I think it could be very interesting for the Russian students to see how business is run in France, how management works here, how it compares with Russia.
— How much does living in Tours cost? What about accommodation?
— It’s worth noting that our area is about 40 per cent less expensive than the Paris region or the Côte d'Azur in the South. As for accommodation we take care of everything for the students. Once a student is enrolled he can pick one of the options -- staying at the university residence, with a host family, or in a private residence. I know Russian students usually prefer to live in halls or a private residence, they want to be more independent. But we have a great network of host families, whom we know very well. We can arrange your stay in a family that shares your interests, be it playing the piano, or fishing, or cooking so that you could do something or talk about something together. Please, don’t think that living in a host family bears a lot of restrictions. In fact, it’s a fantastic opportunity to get submerged into the daily life of the French people. You can share meals with the family, you can work on your French in a natural environment but you don’t have to spend the whole day there so you still keep your independence.
But our halls of residence are popular with the students too. We are in the city center so all accommodation is within walking distance from the institute. Moscow is very impressive with its fantastic metro system and you need it because the city is so large and crowded. So the Russians are often surprised when they see a human size city like Tour where you can get everywhere on foot. And walking is a great way to explore Tours, you can meet French people easily, speak with them as much as you can and thus make the most out of your stay in France.
— You’ve been working with the Russian students for a couple of years now. Based on your experience how would you evaluate their education level or social skills? How do they fare in comparison with the American and European students?
— It’s a very good question and I’ve got a very good answer. I like to talk about the Russian students because they are great. They are open-minded, very tolerant, adapt very easily and really like the aspect of discovering new cultures. I mentioned our media center and library -- you can always find at least one Russian student working there because they are really serious about studying. It’s very nice to see. Like I’ve said, mixing different nationalities is very important for us and I’d like to invite many more HSE students to our institute.
We have quite a few Americans coming in different periods because we have several agreements with US universities; the American students get European credits as you may know. They come in closed groups most of the time and work on specific programs. On the same principle of closed groups we have Italians coming on regular basis, the same goes for the Swiss students. All of them usually study for several weeks. The students from Asia come for longer periods like 9 months.
— All in all, are you satisfied with the way your partnership with HSE has been panning out?
— Absolutely. It’s such a pleasure to get to know the people behind our partnership. And I believe the best way of promoting something is to allow people to gain their own experience and receive their feedback -- bouche à oreille as we say in French. We are proud to have such a great history. People even come back to us many years later, they want to see the classrooms they studied in a long time ago. And you know - those classes, though modernized, are still there. The human side of our history, keeping strong links with those who studied at the Institut de Touraine is very important to us.
HSE and L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) have signed an agreement for the provision of a double degree track for the HSE’s Master's programme in Comparative Social Research. This is the second double degree track being offered to students of this programme. Earlier this year, a similar agreement was signed with the Free University of Berlin.
The HSE Vysokovsky Graduate School of Urbanism together with the French association D’est are organizing a joint summer school this year in France. The School will run from June 25 – July 8, 2017 in Paris and Montpellier and aims to attract students and young professionals in urban development and planning, municipal administration, and civil initiatives.
The Russian-French Seasons festival is opening in Nizhny Novgorod, and HSE Nizhny Novgorod is one of the event’s organizers. On September 11, the Russian news agency Interfax held a press conference that saw the participation of the individuals behind the idea for the festival: Valery Zusman, Director of HSE Nizhny Novgorod; Gennady Ryabov, Honorary Consul of the French Republic in Nizhny Novgorod; and Sophie Gindt, Director of the Alliance Française cultural centre in Nizhny Novgorod.
The HSE International Institute of Administration and Business (IIAB) is launching a new year-long Masters in European Business programme which is open for graduates of the HSE as well as other Russian and international graduates. Irina Maltseva, Director of the IIAB, told us about the programme’s details, advantages and the application procedure.
On March 13th, as part of the visit of a delegation from the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (France) (Ecole des autes études en sciences sociales, EHESS) to the HSE, a cooperation agreement was signed between the two universities.