Don’t call Carrie Anne James a French teacher. Don’t call her a tutor for that matter. Sure, she may help thousands of followers wrap their heads around the difference between passé composé and imparfait. And yes, she may share the perfect way to pronounce those pesky French vowel sounds, but in her mind, for her to assume that title is “disrespectful to the people who have done all the hours in education.” What she does call herself however is professional coach. “I have been coaching everything from music to languages for over a decade now,” she explains. “I prefer the word coach because of the way it adapts to every person’s needs. It’s very intuitive.”
Within moments of talking to James, the inspiring face behind the online French learning concept, French is Beautiful, her go-getter coach spirit is on full display. While most of Paris’ residents are kicking back to enjoy the first of several French May holidays, she remains laser-focused on her lesson plans. “My clients are mostly Anglophone and American, so I’m still working,” she confides.
Distinctly more cheerleader than drill sergeant in her teaching style, James rejects anything that induces stress or a no-pain-no-gain-like grind. “I think one of the greatest things that I do for students is to help them take pressure off themselves. Nobody is judging you,” she explains. In all, it’s a positive take on teaching that has snagged her a sizable online following (32.5K on Instagram to be precise) and an ever-growing roster of clients and newsletter subscribers. No wonder that her aspirational Instagram grid, anchored by her #speakfrenchspreadlove hashtag, has energized budding French speakers and Francophiles alike.
As for her personal relationship with France, it began the way it often does: by falling in love with the City of Light and the stylish intricacies of French everyday life. Coming to Paris for a year abroad at L’Ecole Normale de Musique, “I arrived at the Gare du Nord, it was August, warm and sunny and everybody was en terrasse. The first image I ever remember was of this Vespa zipping around the corner with this cute guy and this gorgeous girl wearing a super-short red skirt on it. I just remember thinking, wow,” she recounts, a nostalgic smile crossing her lips.
Today, after career turns that took her to New York galleries and LA theatres, she is the one commanding attention with the help of some sparkle, style, and Parisian enchantment. By looking at language through the lens of lifestyle, James cuts through the joy-sapping process of many online language programs to instill confidence and encourage learners to exercise their French muscle on a regular, relaxed basis.
“I tell people they need to think of French like any potential friend; they just need to spend time with her,” she states. Aligning with this mantra, her extensive lineup of free SoundCloud resources, paid coaching plans, and content offerings instruct French learners while dispensing the educational antidote to impatience: ralentissez, la vie est belle (slow down, life is beautiful). Take, for example, her attitude toward the pressure to reach fluency: “Being fluent is just so subjective, I don’t like to ever describe myself as fluent,” says James. “I encourage people to strive to be fluid.”
That’s not to say James doesn’t deploy an array of linguistic workouts to help followers attain native-like conversation skills. “I am very sensitive to the physicality of language and how we create vowel sounds and consonants. Unless you’re a singer, a dancer, or an athlete, you don’t really go through life very much thinking about how your body is feeling as you are doing things.” Empowered by an impressive background in languages, music, and performance, James hardly fell into this style of tutoring by accident. Her degree in musicology, years of piano performance, singing, acting, and learning languages (she’s mastering Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and a little Hebrew) have equipped her with an array of indispensable techniques. “One of the reasons I like coaching people in pronunciation is because of the way it draws on musicianship or singing,” she explains.
Though her digital platform has grown, her Francophile relatability has not diminished. Put it down to the way she paints an aspirational yet authentic picture of life in France, and the continuous learning that comes with being a non-native speaker. “I learned a new word the other day at the wine store. ‘Crayeux,’ chalky. I didn’t know that word.” It’s thanks to loyal clients and followers charting her 2015 move to Paris that she feels such a powerful connection to her students. “Everyone was on this journey with me.”
With plans for collaborations afoot, her appetite for learning and spreading her love of French shows no sign of abating. “Soon I’ll be able to apply for French citizenship,” she buzzes, her excitement tangible. In the meantime, however, you’ll find her hosting aperitif dinatoire drinks and eats in her 3rd arrondissement apartment and sharing language tips and tricks from her favorite spots in the city.
Biggest French food craving: “A proper jambon-beurre-fromage sandwich on a fresh baguette. The best one in Paris that I have found is at La Fontaine de Belleville.”
Best place for coffee: “Fragments. This café will win your heart, especially if you are a coffee connoisseur and you love hearing vintage vinyl. I love the bench out front, or the tiny table just to the right of the entrance. There’s nothing quite like having a window seat in Paris to yourself.”
Favorite Café: “I love to grab one of the much-coveted tables that hug the entrance on the terrasse at Café Charlot. Or Café des Beaux Arts. My favorite way to enjoy this bistro is at the table to the far right at the rear of the back room, it’s like having your own little Rive Gauche nook.”