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Profile of a Lifelong Learner: Pamela

Here at ICLS, we love getting to hear about how language can become a lifelong learning journey for people all around the world! So we were so excited for the chance to sit down with translator, teacher, blogger, and lifelong Francophile Pamela Poole (@francophilia on Twitter) to hear all about her language adventures. Whether you’re learning French or looking for inspiration for your professional journey, Pamela’s story is sure to inspire. If you are ready to get started on your journey, check out our language classes for mature adults

“You can tackle anything.”

Profile of a Lifelong Learner: PamelaPamela fell in love with French after seeing the feature-length animated movie Gay Purr-ee when she was just three or four years old. The movie follows the adventures of Mewsette, a country kitten voiced by Judy Garland, who decides to leave the south of France to go live in Paris. Pamela watched the movie every time it was on, about once a year.

As a second-grader, Pamela got her hands on her first French book when, in her school library, she discovered the Babar book series, which featured the many adventures of a young and brave elephant.

“The books were in English, but the same story was printed in French if you flipped them upside down. So here I was, at age 7 or 8, flipping the Babar book back and forth, trying to understand the story in French by comparing it to the English.”   

Pamela had her first opportunity to study French formally in seventh grade. Her middle school offered Spanish, German, and French, but in her own words: “There was never a question what language I was going to study.” She dove into French, joined the French club, and remained dedicated to studying the language as she moved to Guam and then Hawaii to follow her father, who was in the Navy. Reflecting on how traveling at a young age shaped her, she said:

“It changes you. You can tackle anything; it makes you so flexible.”  

French in professional life

After graduating from high school, Pamela joined the Air Force and went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, where she studied Russian. She was the only student in her class to receive an ILR score of 3/3 in Russian after a year. “I loved learning Russian, but I didn’t have the same emotional attachment to the language or culture that I had to French.”

While in basic training, she asked to take the Defense Language Proficiency Test in French, and she also received the coveted score of 3/3, an outstanding feat after five years of high school French.

“Language is my thing,” Pamela commented matter-of-factly.

Pamela’s language learning achievements are remarkable and raise the question of whether they should be attributed to talent or her motivation to learn languages. In reality, her achievements likely reflect both innate talent and high motivation.

During the Cold War, Pamela was stationed in Germany for two years. In their time off, her friends went to Italy, Greece, and England, while Pamela headed out to France every time she had a chance.

“There was never a time when I didn’t want French to be at the center of my life. Everything I ever did, I tried to make French a part of it.”

Even when she worked in non-language-related positions throughout her life, she found ways to use her French. As a program assistant in a USAID-funded nonprofit in San Diego, she used her command of the language to communicate with groups of trainees from French-speaking African countries.  “I spent time with them,” she said. “I helped take care of their needs; I traveled with them to Mexico City.”

Finding fluency through lifelong learning

It was only a matter of time until Pamela decided to move to France. At that point, after a BA in French and an MA in Translation, she had stellar reading comprehension, but struggled to understand fast-paced Parisian speech or engage in real-time conversations in group situations.

“But I went straight out, launched a startup, and interacted with French people, and it just came. The day I knew I was fluent was when I cracked a joke, and a French person that I didn’t know laughed. I had been living in Paris for 2 years by then. That was the moment where I thought, oh my god, I speak French!

Other lifelong learners we interviewed for this series echoed Pamela’s experience with humor as an indicator of fluency. Burke C, for example, also identified his ability to use humor as a fluency milestone.

Even while immersed in the French culture and the language, Pamela continued to challenge herself. For example, she regularly watched the French TV show Bref. In these 2-minute episodes, the main character discusses everyday challenges at a breakneck pace. At first, Pamela could only understand the gist of it. By after a year immersed in Parisian French, she could pick out every word.





Building a life in France

After nearly nine years in France, Pamela moved back to the US, and in 2019, she was hired by the Foreign Service Institute as one of the very few non-native instructors of French.

Teaching for FSI further improved her command of French.

Your students are diplomats. You discuss human rights and complex geopolitical, development, or environmental issues. You have to use high-level texts, research podcasts, and videos to integrate into your teaching. Although I lived in the States for the following seven years, my vocabulary improved. 

The upheaval brought about by the pandemic led Pamela to reevaluate her work, life, and priorities, and she decided to relocate to France in 2021. This time, she settled in Bernay, a beautiful village in Normandy that she had become acquainted with when living in France. She writes about her adventures and the town of Bernay on her blog, Bernay en Anglais.

“It’s cute as a button, surrounded by greenery, and two rivers run through it. The market is lovely.” 

Language classes for mature adults
Pamela documents the charms of beautiful Bernay in her blog. You can also catch a glimpse of her day-to-day on our Instagram: @icls_dc.

She is there to stay. Over the years, she kept up with her personal and professional network of both French and American acquaintances. She has friends, a lovely apartment, and a life she loves — truly making herself at home in France.

She stays in close contact with her family in the US, especially her granddaughter, whom she introduced to the Madeline book series that she read herself as a second-grader.

“I’m working on her,” she says of her granddaughter. “I am going to make a Francophile out of her!”

Lifelong Learning at ICLS: Language classes for mature adults 

Inspired to start your language-learning journey? Whether you’re looking to dip your toes into a new culture, prepare for an upcoming trip, or boost your professional skills, ICLS has a language class to help you become a lifelong learner! Our highly experienced, top-tier instructors will make sure you achieve your goals and have fun while doing so. 

Our Lifelong Language Program offers 6-week online language classes for mature adults centered on travel and culture themes in French, Spanish, and Italian. 

And if you’re looking for a more intensive experience, try our 10-week Online Group Language Courses. Choose between courses in Arabic, Chinese, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.


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