Let’s see how Alan is getting on at French in Normandy with this latest update…
Well its getting a little tougher now! We have begun to look at ‘au present simple’ and ‘passe compose’ – in other words present and past tense! When they start discussing ‘conjugasion’ and reflexive verbs, I struggle. I never learnt this in English let alone in French! However, I’m not feeling too bad about it as although it is taking some concentration it is beginning to register slowly in my very small and very old brain!
The other interesting change is the way that within only two weeks this small international fraternity of students begin to mould into small friendships. Mind you, every now and then someone new appears – a new starter, and someone disappears – either finished and off home, or worse for one’s self-esteem they have been moved to a different group, presumably because they are too good for us beginners. At first, you feel a little piqued and then as Eleri, our seat of all wisdom, remarked “Well, how long did it take you to learn your first language?”. You then realise it’s not a competition here. You are learning because you want to learn, and you learn at whatever pace is right for you. It relaxes you when you accept this.
Every morning there is a little congregation outside the entrance to the school that greet each other warmly with little smiles of embarrassment in their new-found French. Each day there are new phrases added to the vocabulary that we all try out on each other, and if you happen to say something not quite correct to someone who is a couple of groups ahead of you, they gently smile and educate you in the correct way – regardless of age by the way, the other day a 17-year-old Japanese girl corrected my pronunciation, thank you Mina! Its all done with the best intentions and a far cry from the bullying aggressive attitude of my inner-city school gate; oh so, so, so long ago!
It’s quite sweet and makes you feel part of one big, probably slightly, dysfunctional family.
As for life ‘en France’, is it becoming easier and more familiar? Peut-être (perhaps). I visited Fontainebleau, south-west of Paris last week-end. It’s worth a visit for the palace alone. Anyway, I was quite confident as I checked in to my hotel, announcing in a strong voice in French that they should have a reservation for me? Trouble is, one should also remember that the quicker and more confident one sounds the quicker and more complex they respond. C’est une problem. This left me feeling a little awkward and embarrassed as I had to ask them to repeat their question ‘lentements, s’il vous plait!’. They then glance slightly despairingly at the heavens and respond with near perfect English, which of course does not help me improve my French one little bit. I have to say, in a mild defence of the majority of my countrymen, it is quite difficult to learn a foreign language when you are British because a) which one do you choose? And b) everyone by now speaks near perfect English and cannot be bothered to help educate us. I don’t blame them, but it does sometimes get a little frustrating, but then the whole of the French nation is not here to teach me French. Damn my arrogance!
So another week over. I’ll keep you posted on progress.