One of my most favorite language hacks is learning a language through music. But Naomi flipped it, when she used music (rapping) to help her get over the fear of speaking in another language. Read on to learn more about Naomi’s language learning journey and for her tips on what helped her learn French and Mandarin.

BGLL: Thanks for sharing your story! Tell us about yourself.

Naomi: My name is Naomi Francis and I’m from London, UK. I’m of black Caribbean heritage and I’m a native English speaker. I have a Bachelor’s in Business Management with French as well as a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in French Education 11-18.

I am a secondary school teacher of Business, Economics and French in London, UK. Oh, and I am a spoken word and grime rapper. I released a single in December which racked up an incredible 12k streams! I also am a trumpet player (though nobody’s heard a tune for a while :)).

BGLL: What languages have you learned?

Naomi: I learnt French at school and loved it. Although, sadly it didn’t love me. I failed it at 18 and left my 6th form with a lovely U (failure in the UK education system) in French. I, then, thought I would take this subject up at university! I thought it would be a great asset alongside business and, well, I just had hope that I would grasp it once studying it more broadly. It was only when I undertook my year aboard from my course in Tours, France, where I REALLY learnt how to talk in French. I only had knowledge of the selective curriculum and that really was an eye opener for me, as I had to get my to grips with French and quickly.

I am currently re-learning Mandarin; I took this at university for a year and loved it. Then, like with everyone, life happens, and the book got put back on the shelf. I also learnt Spanish to teach a class at school which was fun, so with this unusual time that we are all experiencing, I am putting love back into those languages again.

BGLL: How did you learn Mandarin?

Naomi: I always had an interest in Mandarin as this part of the business world I found intriguing. I felt like if I could master this language, being a young black girl from London, I would be in such a position with my business degree to take flight and make real boss moves! Furthermore, learning about another culture is such a humbling experience. You really become grateful for such things of access that you take for granted. 

BGLL: Did you ever feel shy to speak? How did you overcome that?
Naomi: Very shy to speak French. I used to wait till I had a few drinks to feel confident in front of people. Then I thought, they appreciate you trying to converse in their languages rather than look ignorant expecting them to have a fantastic level of English and that gave me lots of confidence. I was once on a radio station in France where I rapped in French LOL! After that, nothing could really put me off speaking it.  Keep trying it and try some more, it will get there, no rush.

BGLL: What was your hardest struggle with language and how did you overcome it?

Naomi: The hardest part and most poignant part of my teaching career to date, was the time I was literally chucked off my teacher training course, because (according to my mentors) my French wasn’t 'French enough' and more over. was teaching improper French.

My grammar was not up to scratch and frankly this knocked me off the confidence spectrum. I had quit my last job to become a teacher, so I had to make this work. I then was told I need to simply move back to France in order to improve. And that’s what I did, I moved back that September for 4 months to perfect my grammar and upon retune the university wanted me to take an A level in French to asses my new level, I got an A, I finally had an A level and qualified that following year as a teacher of French.

In fact, it was due to this experience that I set up my social enterprise called Languages That Talk. We put the modern back in modern foreign languages learning through role play using situational and functional languages with students in state schools. The aim is to improve the number of BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups) students continuing language learning through school and allow them to understand the employability factors that come with it. 

BGLL: Which of your foreign languages is/are your favorite and why?

Naomi: I love French and Mandarin for different reasons. I have had a long journey to become a confident French speaker and teacher while Mandarin is so different to any European language. With a lack of grammar rules, it [Mandarin] is easier to understand. Moreover, the pinyin (writing form of mandarin) is beautiful to look at. 

BGLL: What are some tips you’d offer to those learning languages?

Naomi: Attend language exchange meet ups. Honestly, there is a meet up for everyone for every language and for every level. It’s a great way to meet new people and have someone to learn with. I would also suggest, watching your favorite series and movies with subtitles—it’s a great way to learn the colloquial side of the language. Also, keep practicing and keep track of your progress. Small wins deserve celebration!

BGLL: How can we keep up with you on social (social media)?

Naomi: Tstarnay on Instagram, that is where you will find my music/ rap and spoken word posts as well as a few educational posts. Tstarnay on Spotify and YouTube as well for the music lovers. Languages That Talk will soon have an Instagram account, but for now please subscribe to our newsletter found at https://www.languagesthattalk.com

Peace and love, and never stop learning.





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