AUBG Professor Krastanka Bozhinova: ‘For me, French was ‘love at first sight’’
Krastanka Bozhinova, a professor of French at AUBG, joined the university a year after obtaining her first Master’s Degree from Sofia University. She then got a second Master’s from Sorbonne Nouvelle University - Paris 3 and a PhD from the University of Nantes while teaching full-time at AUBG. Passionate about teaching, reading and speaking in French, Professor Bozhinova said AUBG was one of the reasons why she decided to stay in Bulgaria instead of moving to Canada. Read our interview with Professor Bozhinova to learn more about her work experience, her teaching and research interests, and what she enjoys doing in her free time.
When did you first become interested in learning French?
I started learning French at school and quickly understood this language was in perfect harmony with my identity. When my level became more advanced, I realized I could think, express myself, and “live” in French. Literature also played an important role because I was reading authors like Jules Verne, Victor Hugo and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in Bulgarian and was curious to read books by these and many other great French authors in the original language. What was very inspiring was also that in my first year as a student at Sofia University, I had the opportunity to attend the meeting of French President François Mitterrand with students during his symbolic visit that preceded democratic changes in Bulgaria. I still have a Robert dictionary I received as a student of French Philology as a gift from the French government at that time on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Sofia University and the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.
What can you tell us about your academic background and your experience obtaining a PhD from the University of Nantes in France? Why did you choose to study there?
My first Master’s degree was from Sofia University but I decided to take a research-oriented academic pathway when I already had more than ten years of teaching experience and became a full-time instructor at AUBG. I was extremely lucky to meet Prof. Jean-Paul Narcy-Combes at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University - Paris 3 during my second Master’s studies there. He encouraged me to do research in the fields of multilingualism and the use of ICTs for language teaching and learning. He also became my PhD supervisor as an emeritus professor together with Marie-Françoise Narcy-Combes, a professor at the Center for Research on National Identities and Interculturality (CRINI) at the University of Nantes, where I defended my PhD thesis in 2016. These four years of Master’s and PhD studies and research in France were quite intensive for me as I continued teaching full-time at AUBG. My students were of great support because my research activity is in a field, in which it is particularly important to observe closely the language learning process, while introducing some innovative teaching approaches.
Which was the first work position you have had?
I started teaching French at a high school in Blagoevgrad, my husband’s hometown, where we moved after our graduation in Sofia. In the following year, I also became an adjunct instructor of French at AUBG.
Why did you decide to become a professor and what led you to AUBG?
Teaching was the most natural choice for me as a graduate with a major in French Philology. Some of my former French professors also encouraged me to follow this path. AUBG was a new university created just three years before I moved to Blagoevgrad. The first years of my career were during a period of transition when Bulgaria was in a deep political and economic crisis. Many young people from my generation were leaving the country and I was also exploring the option to emigrate to Canada with my family. My first adjunct position at AUBG was probably one of the reasons that made me stay here.
What is it like teaching French in English to students from diverse nationalities?
As a language professor I was prepared to teach my classes exclusively in French even to beginners because this teaching method was considered to be the most beneficial to language learners. This may still be the best approach in some contexts. However, today’s teaching methodologies are more flexible and put an emphasis on the learner with her/his language biography, as well as the institutional environment. When you teach to students from diverse nationalities, it is an advantage if they have a common language like English to facilitate instruction, especially as we have a limited number of hours, encourage student collaborative and autonomous learning, and their intercultural awareness. I consider the fact that our students speak English as a benefit because of the lexical similarities with French. Using a plurilingual approach that is based on analogies and contrasts between the target and other languages fosters metalinguistic awareness, reduces anxiety, and helps students progress faster.
If you have to describe your typical workday in one sentence, what will it be?
When you are a teacher, each workday is different from the others. What I usually ask myself at the end of a workday is what worked well and what I could do better in my classes or for some students. I also often prepare more activities than we can do in class, that is why I wish we had more time for practice.
What moments and student achievements makes you feel satisfied?
It is great when students perform well in class and on exams, but I am particularly happy when their interest and ability to use French goes beyond the classroom. For example, some students have participated in poetry and photo competitions, summer schools in France, exchange programs, or pursued their Master’s studies in French-speaking countries. There are always highly motivated students who take most of my courses and even request me to offer additional Independent Study courses on topics, which are not included in the catalog.
Please tell us more about your teaching and research interests, and the articles you’ve written.
With regards to teaching, I am always happy to experiment with new ideas and make my introductory and intermediate-level courses dynamic and engaging. I particularly like courses which focus on French and Francophone culture, for example Modern France - Society, Politics, and Culture. I also designed and taught two advanced Independent Study courses that focus on French cinema and French for International Relations and Diplomacy. At the moment, I am preparing a new topic course about the representation of Paris in French literature, film, and songs which I am eager to teach in Spring 2021 as a GenEd and WIC course.
My research activities are in the area of multilingualism and intercultural education, as well as the use of digital technologies for language teaching and learning with a focus on writing in an additional language. My most recent contribution is as a special issue editor for the French scientific journal TDFLE (Travaux de didactique du français langue étrangère) on the topic of writing in French as a foreign language together with a colleague from the University of Montpellier. I also contributed to this number with a new article together with two colleagues from France and Morocco. Moreover, I have published articles in the field of terminology for European and international relations. My last article in this field appeared in the Franco-Belgian scientific journal Le Langage et l’Homme at the end of 2019.
Why did you decide to write a book and a book chapter in 2017?
My publications in this year are based on my PhD research work. The book chapter published by Ediciones Octaedro (Barcelona) is based on a part of that research, while my book “Apprendre le français après l’anglais. Développement de la production écrite à l’aide du numérique” [Learning French after English. Developing written production in a digitally-supported environment] is a shorter and slightly updated version of my PhD thesis published by L’Harmattan (Paris). The aim of these publications was to contribute to a better understanding of the strategies multilingual learners of French use in their writing, as well as to illustrate how to design collaborative and ICT-supported tasks to improve students’ writing in French as an additional language. I also tackled the issue with the use of automatic translation and other multilingual tools.
You have also been teaching Globally Connected Courses with partners from the Earlham College and the University of Bordeaux. What’s the goal of these projects?
As I mentioned, I am interested both in intercultural education and the use of ICTs for language teaching and learning. Thanks to my German colleague Prof. Diana Stantcheva who has participated in the Global Course Connections Project since 2013, I found partners from Earlham College in the USA and completed three course connections with my classes in the last years. What makes this program particularly interesting for language classes is that our students connect through digital media and have the opportunity to practice the language they learn, as well as develop their intercultural awareness. This project is suitable for all our classes, even for the lower levels because students from both universities share the same difficulties as learners of French. In addition, I connected two of my upper level classes with partners from the University of Bordeaux where I have a colleague who coordinates projects in intercultural telecollaboration. Although this experience was much more challenging because my students had to communicate with native speakers, most of them appreciated it and shared that this was a unique opportunity to use the language in authentic situations and to learn more about French culture and society.
If teaching was not your profession, what would it have been?
Maybe something connected to arts: a musician or a designer because I liked playing the flute and drawing.
If you have the opportunity to learn another foreign language in the future to the extend you know French, which one would it be and why?
If for me French was like “love at first sight”, today my choice would rather be pragmatic. I understand well Russian and today I find it useful in my work, having to interact with Russian-speaking students. Actually, I would be happy to speak and understand to some extend the first languages of all my students to explore the reasons for their difficulties in French. In addition, I think that in international settings where you usually use a lingua franca, it is a real asset to be able to address people in their own language, even for small talk. This is particularly important in areas such as education, international relations, politics, or business, as there are moments when you meet with people in less formal settings. If you can speak their language, this will definitely help advance your projects, negotiations, or build closer relations.
What are the three most interesting activities you enjoy doing in your free time?
There is a word that best illustrates my free time activities: “escapade”. In French it means you find some time to “escape” from your everyday duties and spend some time doing things that bring you relaxation or positive emotions, no matter if it is just for half an hour or one month. It can be just reading a book you didn’t have the time to read, walking or spending time with relatives and friends, visiting a place you haven’t been to or a place you like returning to.