Spotlight: Professor Marie Gillette
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 02:10
Marie Gillette, whose expertise is foreign language acquisition and translation, is not only a part-time lecturer in French at Tufts, but also a writer, editor and speaker for Pimsleur, a self-instructional language acquisition resource.
Gillette grew up in Toulouse, a picturesque city in southwestern France, and later studied at the Université de Toulouse, where she received her maitrîse d’anglais degree. Gillette said she always had her heart set on becoming an English professor in France, but her career path soon took its own direction.
“At the time, applying to be a professor in France was not easy,” she said. “There were not enough positions for everyone. Becoming a French professor in America happened by accident.”
Hearing native English speakers in France influenced Gillette to move to Massachusetts, attend school there and delve into American culture.
“While studying at Emerson College in Massachusetts, I worked as a teaching assistant at UMass Amherst,” Gillette said.
She also worked as a private tutor, both at French culture organization Alliance Francaise and a French library near Emerson College, where she was studying at the time.
Gillette now teaches a wide array of French courses at Tufts, ranging from French 1 to 22. Even though she has forged close relationships with her students over the years, she finds it difficult to choose one class as her favorite.
“I do have to admit that I have a great deal of fun teaching the beginner French 1 and the advanced French 22 here at Tufts,” she said.
This is because Gillette enjoys seeing students learn French for the first time.
“It is so exciting to see these students slowly climb the ladder, reach the climax and master basic grammatical concepts that help them further develop skills in French,” she said.
On the other hand, Gillette said that even though it is more work, she finds it thrilling to teach French 22.
“The 22 students have reached the plateau of their journey with French,” she said.
Junior Erica Santos, one of Gillette’s former students, had a very fulfilling semester in French 22.
“Gillette was one of the most enthusiastic professors I’ve ever had — I’ve always been hesitant to speak up in class in general, let alone in French, and Madame Gillette made me feel so comfortable,” Santos said.
According to Santos, Gillette encourages all of her students to contribute to class discussions.
“For the first time in my French learning career, we really spent time on pronunciation, which was also extremely helpful,” Santos said. “We read some great short stories, and her laugh was so contagious.”
Gillette pointed out that she always sees room for improvement in her classes.
“I would love to see my students of all levels jump out of their comfort zones by speaking more and caring less,” she said. “Sometimes, it is better to hear what a mistake sounds like, rather than hiding it and keeping it inside one’s head.”
Gillette also urges her students to experience languages outside of the classroom by listening to foreign radio stations, watching foreign films and studying overseas.
“I encourage students to fully immerse themselves in the language they are learning by living or studying abroad in a foreign country for multiple weeks, if possible,” she said.
When Gillette is not teaching at Tufts, she works for Pimsleur, a 50-year-old audio company that creates programs for learning languages. The company has gone from producing cassettes and CDs to online videos.
“Pimsleur’s goal is to teach people how to speak a language both quickly and effectively,” Gillette said. “The program allows customers to enhance their grammar and vocabulary through repetitive pronunciation.”
Gillette explained that learning by listening stresses active participation.
“The program really allows individuals to put the pieces of a puzzle together and figure out what they need to fix,” she said.
Pimsleur’s program works well at the beginner level since new learners are quick to try speaking a new language without paying attention to detail, according to Gillette. The same does not apply to more advanced learners, she said.
“Advanced learners become so curious and want to know all about the details hidden behind a language,” she said.
Gillette started working at Pimsleur after a sound engineer in Concord, Mass. contacted her to audition for a recording job at the company.
At first, Gillette was the recorded voice of a native French speaker for the program. Her accent was utilized to teach individuals how a French person speaks. Gillette was soon promoted to an editor and writer for Pimsleur, including writing and speaking for the company’s “French for Japanese Speakers” program.