Julie Saint-Jacques: "The French language is a masterpiece!"
In charge of language training at the Paris headquarters of Deloitte, Julie Saint-Jacques travels back in time to explain how she came to fall in love with the French language. A passion that has guided her life choices, from her childhood in Cleveland (USA) to Paris, and which continues to drive her through her professional life. Portrait of an immersive-learning activist.
"As a student, I thought I was going to change the world!" Julie Saint-Jacques’ voice turned to a whisper as she shares this confidence. Then, she bursts out laughing.
She may well hold a top-position within one of the world leaders in consulting and au dit, Julie Saint-Jacques cultivates the art of never being where you expect her to be.
A state of mind that she displayed at a very young age, while living with her family in her native Ohio."I have seven siblings, and I'm the youngest. By tradition, at home, boys learned French and girls, Spanish. But I chose not to do like everyone else and to follow the experience of my brothers. I decided to learn French!"
An American in Paris
This was the birth of a passion that never left Julie. With enthusiasm, she then dives into the tricky process of learning French. "I loved it. Overcoming difficulties, discovering the culture, all of it. So much so that I decided to take the next step, by joining a university exchange program which took me to Paris”.
The convinced Francophile and Political Science major travels to Paris, and discovers the French capital through different courses given here and there.
"And it is kind of funny, because some classes, though not given by the Alliance Française, were given Boulevard Raspail, in their premises”. And it is kind of funny, but one of these courses is about art history, and the teacher is about to become Julie’s husband…
This explains why the American then became a full-time Parisian. But that still does not explain why she embraced a career in language training. "Well, at the time, I went to Africa for a humanitarian project. When I got there, my way of doing something useful was to give English lessons. That’s how it all started”.
Language, a path to cultural integration
Now, for the past 19 years, she has been coordinating language training at Deloitte. "We are an international group and as such, most of the professional exchanges take place in English. In the beginning, I was giving courses in English to employees, mainly French, in order to maintain their language skills”.
Teach English to the French ? Well, one could say it sometimes comes close to a humanitarian mission…
"But as we integrated employees from around the world, they were confronted with the reality of Parisian life: some were really surprised that the French spoke, well, French !’’. Julie Saint-Jacques laughs again.
‘’Many chose to take private lessons. The problem is, French is such a structured language, in which grammar is so important! You can't make a sentence if you don't know how to conjugate verbs, it's not like in English. French is a masterpiece, you have the small brushes, the larger brushes, you add a letter here, you take another out there… You can't learn it in 20 hours!’’.
Also, to ease the cultural integration of Deloitte’s employees in Paris, Julie Saint Jacques looks for an organization offering group sessions in line with the requirements of her company. Enters the Alliance française de Paris - Ile de France.
A subtle balance between rigor and flexibility
"At the Alliance, the teachers understand the language, they take the necessary time to explain it, they recommend books. It is an intensive formula, in which the students are committed over time, and which forces them to leave their work environment. Above all, the number of students at the Alliance is sufficient enough to carry out a schedule throughout the year, and that allows us to enroll our employees there at the last minute, depending on demand’’.
The manager is candid about it: with the responsibilities of audit and consulting that comes with working at Deloitte, what she is looking for in a partnership is above all an Olympic-style flexibility.
"And for that too, the Alliance française team is great. They adapt to our needs and requirements, the registration process has been greatly facilitated over the ten years that we have worked with them. Simply put, when I send people to the Alliance française, I know it's going to go well. It’s a big plus for my peace of mind.’’
A sense of adaptation that has been put to test since March 2020 and the necessary adjustments due to the pandemic. Remote learning, new schedules, once again, the Alliance française tackled the challenge.
‘’And now, the employees themselves recommend the Alliance to those who wish to learn French; in terms of marketing, it doesn’t get much better than that.’’
An enthusiasm which fuels Julie Saint-Jacques’ linguistic mission; she knows better than anyone how learning a language might not change the world, but it definitely can change one’s life.