This week we invite Alan, a mature student from England, to tell us a bit about his first week at French in Normandy as part of a series on our student blog.
I wouldn’t have said I was your archetypal student, but then according to Eleri Maitland the Director and owner of French in Normandy there is no such thing as an archetypal student. I am not surprised to hear her say this, as Eleri is not your archetypal French School Teacher! For a start off, the owner of the best French language school in France is not French! She is very proudly, une Femme Galloise vivant en France. (‘a Welsh woman living in France’ for those uninitiated amongst you. Look at me speaking French already!) Eleri started the school some 25 years ago and with her excellent team have landed the top prizes in their industry. I am lucky enough to be enrolled for 15 hours of French language tuition a week in their cool and slightly chic school in the Sotteville region of Rouen. Home of such notables as Jeanne D ‘Arc and Guillaume Le Conquerant. As an Englishman in Rouen (Is that the name of a Sting track?) I should feel at home, after all we were ruled and spoke Norman French in England for 200 years. Richard the Lionheart (Coeur de Lion, as in the Camembert Cheese brand) was also the Duke of Normandy, and its true I do feel very much at home.
Right from the beginning when I had my assessment test with the friendly Vanessa I was made to feel at home. I was a little nervous I must admit, after all I am a 57-year-old returning to school to study French, the last time I was in a classroom was 42 years ago!
First of all, Vanessa sat me down with a cup of coffee and asked me to tell her a little about myself, in French of course – both the question and my answer! Now here is the thing; the key point; the point of no return, the tingling moment that you have to ‘man-up’ to when you enrol in a French language school in France – you have to get over your nerves, forget about maybe sounding a bit silly and actually talk. Even if you only know the word for Hello (Bonjour) that is enough. You just have to get over that one little hurdle.
Fortunately for me I knew and somehow remembered a few words and promptly murdered the French language with what was probably the worst grammar and worst accent poor Vanessa and the rest of France has had to endure since God was a boy! She was polite, smiles a lot and gently helped me stagger through a few sentences about where I was from, what I did for a living and such like. Then when she could bear the terrible French anymore (not that she gave anything away) I was led to the ‘ Technologie‘ room, that is to say a room full of laptops and screens, where I was asked to answer as best I could about 30 multiple choice French questions. Some of them I couldn’t even say out loud to myself, some I kind of recognised a few words and pretty well all of them I didn’t understand a single word and, so I guessed. Amazingly I scored 42%. I was obviously a language natural, a linguistic god in the making.
Not quite, it turned out after my week end break on the first proper day of school I was in class B1. I think that means Beginner 1. C’est la Vie, what did I expect? Well I did not expect Victor! He is Le Professuer. Now in England Professor conjures up images of a bald bespectacled slightly serious old man in a cap and gown, not some wacky, football loving, video game playing family man with a rather cute line in Gold lame pencil cases. From the off, we were in good hands as he digressed almost immediately from the prescribed curriculum into some hilarious expedition into the habits, loves and life of a fellow student all the way from Sainata in Japan, whose passion in life turned out to be world-wide wrestling, or as the French say La Lutte. The Japanese sounding, part English part French explanation to our puzzled French Professeur had him and us in stitches. I do not remember my French lessons at school being this much fun.
The rest of the morning flew by and at one o’clock Victor called time for lunch, that is one habit the French do extremely well and should never ever be allowed to alter. President Macron do you hear me? The French lunch-break should be sacrosanct in law.
What made this first day so weird was not so much Victor’s très bizarre humour and methods but the fact that by the end of that first morning, somehow, he had achieved the impossible feat of squeezing more knowledge of the French language into my old and small brain that in four years at my old comprehensive school. The fact that not once, in a class room full of international students ranging from ages 18 to 58 did I feel unwelcome, out of place, stupid or embarrassed. It bodes well for the rest of the week. I’ll let you know.