“The best way to know a person is to learn his or her language,” Laetitia Carquet says.
By that philosophy, Carquet wants to know a lot of people: She speaks fluent French, English and Spanish, has taken courses in Russian, Italian and German, and is currently teaching herself Japanese.
Hailing from Marseille, the energetic Carquet spent time as a French teacher in England and Los Angeles before joining the French Institute in 2009. In Winnetka she has led classes for children and adults, from beginning students to advanced conversational speakers.
For Carquet, the process of learning a new language is not about literal translation, but developing the ability to convey meaning and intent. She uses memory tricks like linking hand gestures and facial expressions to pronunciations, gender and vocabulary, and leads her advanced students in topical conversations. A trained actress, Carquet also frequently performs one-woman skits, complete with props and costumes, to illustrate concepts. This desire to bring humor into her lessons whenever possible makes classes more fun and boosts students’ confidence.
“I love to joke with beginners in French, because they feel good that they can understand a joke in a foreign language,” she says.
And her students appreciate this approach.
“To help us with our pronunciation, her performance borders on hilarious and it works. Laetitia goes to great lengths to keep the class interesting,” says student Charlotte Adams.
Kim Dorcas, an administrator at the French Institute, often hears roaring laughter coming from Carquet’s classroom. “She understands that people need to feel at ease when learning a language,” Dorcas says.
Carquet has realized that adults, perhaps paradoxically, can require greater patience and care than her younger students, because they are more likely to be self-conscious about making mistakes.
“Learning a language is taking a risk,” she says. “You have to be willing to get it wrong.”
Carquet knows this from experience. While she was studying English at the University of Aix-en-Provence, she claims that she barely talked for three years for fear of saying the wrong thing and sounding foolish. Now she thinks it’s foolish that she never spoke up.
“It’s a leap of faith,” she says. “Language is always moving. It’s a living creature.”