I evidentally have holes in my brain. Lots of them. The French tester politely explained that I knew words that were advanced, but fundamental parts of the French language were missing. God knows what I had been replying to his questions, but sometimes he looked confused and at other times plain shocked. My neighbours back in France must be very polite as so far I have felt I must be fluent!
I am therefore unable to attend the Intermediate class and should start from scratch. My thoughts entirely.
I have an important task in London for the next two weeks – a bit of respite from the stressful reason I am over here. I need to excercise my brain and what better way than to try at last to master French.
Checking on the internet I found the school Aliance Francaise just off Baker Street in North London. The intensve course sounded ideal. Everyday for two weeks and all in French. No English to muscle in and confuse matters. I often find it hard to commit to long courses. This daily schedule would work. Just block out the diary and get on with it.
I know London well. I lived here for quite a few years, the the bustling, noisy Underground – commutting in rush hour – was not too much of a bother. The school is next door to the station and making an effort to arrive an hour before meant The Full English breakfast could be eaten at one of the many cafes – to feed the brain – protein you understand.
My first visit was last week. I rung the brass door bell, the lock clicked to let me in. Stomping snow off my boots I left a puddle. The hallway and reception were old-fashioned. I felt a little what I felt, a potential English spy must have felt during the war, being posted off to aid the French Resistance and going through the intensive French programme beforehand, getting your papers and the nerves setting in.
No one spoke English. Total immersion, or maybe in my case – potential drowning!
First an interview to check your level, held unceremoniously in the reception, overheard by everyone passing through. Pressure on. I was asked about myself, my work, where I lived, what I did for hobbies. I was ok. A few gramatical clunks, but there was hope. I struggled to ask questions back – but it was easier to be selfish and talk about myself. For the French a two way conversation mattered. A tour of the text book and then judgement. “Your are a gruyere cheese”.
Sorry I was a what? “Holes, lots of holes – Your are a gruyere cheese”. Well I rather like gruyere. I didnt burst into tears.
So the beginners course was my bag. I would progress quickly no doubt and if I worked hard on my homework I would find it quite easy. My pronunciation was good and he seemed inpresssed I could read French tolerably well and spelling too acceptable. I mean I had managed to translate the Planning Application back in France, so I wasnt a total dairylee triangle.
I said my aurevoired goodbye, and fled. First part over. I had to wait a week to find out if there would be enough students. Back home I had a few days to study. I bought a simple book covering grammar and got started. As long as I can communicate day to day, I am not really worried about conjugating my verbs. Being polite and not sounding stupid will do well enough.
So last week was my first week of two. It was fun. The two petite female teachers were friendly, supportive and thorough. My fellow students made me laugh and time flew. It felt like college days. Meeting up before lessons for breakfast and laughing about our failings have been cathartic after the stressful last few months.
French – well – what a complex language. Masculine and femenine unless its an exception – whats all that about? I had to ask the question – why? The answer was given with no hesitation – snobbery. The French like to make language difficult to ensure society has the haves and the have nots. Shocking I thought for a country that guillotined the aristocracy! As we settled into numbers we had a minor English rebellion. No English numbers were simpler and no wonder KPMG was founded in the USA and has headquarters in London. You cant use a number system where they use commars instead of points!
The dubbing of films is also the French way of trying to protect their language. But it just wont work that way. It seems very short sighted. Actors take a lifetime to hone their skill and for the French to dub it over unceremoniously to me is an insult to that actors skill. To never hear the true voice of the actor ruins the film.
But I will learn the language because I have chosen to live in France. At the end of the two weeks I feel I will be confident to tackle grammar and its broken the ice. The school push the gender from day one and structure of scentences and that helps break the code so to speak. The rest will fall in as you practise. Now if your expecting some French language now – sorry my brain is still in the “hole” phase and nothing is coming to mind. Its been a long week, and for now – adieu.