After a period of what farmers would describe as lying fallow, I’ve signed up for French lessons. I had a slight hiccup when I scored 28% in the short online test, as mentioned in my Update, but after a (thankfully) even briefer verbal test with the French teacher, I’m all signed up for term one (intermediate level! I can only assume levels below that are complete beginners).
There are eight of us in the class and we’re a cheery eclectic bunch; a Polish girl, a Colombian girl, a Scot, as well as a lawyer, a teacher, and an engineer. The Scot is learning French because his girlfriend (of 14 years!) is French. The Columbian girl says she’s learning because when she meets French people, she tries a few words, and they gallop off in response. You’re lucky, I say glumly, when I try a few words, they always respond in English. The pretty French teacher is straight out of Central Casting – a mass of curly blonde hair in a messy up-do, a sing-song voice, and her English is delivered with a fruity French accent. When she wants us to be quiet she coos ‘Oooo-Oooo’. We begin by explaining who we are, why we want to learn French, whether we are married, and our nationality. We all make an effort, my accent is non existent, I can’t remember any vocabulary, but it’s great fun and not at all embarrassing. School was never like this. Or maybe it’s me that’s different. For one thing, sitting in a u-shape rather than rows means you can’t hide at the back. And for another, now I’m older I can accept that, in life and in lessons, it’s much more fun to join in. It’s obvious who hasn’t spoken a word of French since school (me for one). We chat, we play word games, we decline the past imperfect (no idea what that is, even in English) and I learn a new phrase. Feel free to borrow it – je ne fais que commencer. It means I’m only just beginning. I think. Je reviens.
Week two and I’m still ne fais que commencing. At one point we talk about our holidays. My partner Tania says she went en vacance avec sa petit ami et son famille. ‘Bon!’ I said, ‘Est- ce que il a les…, er, bambinos? I asked. She burst out laughing, ‘Bambinos?’ ‘Yes’ I said, ‘does he have any Italian children?’. Je suis hopeless. But it happens to us all; then PM Tony Blair tried to say, in French, that he admired then French PM Lionel Jospin even though they had differing views. What he actually said was that he desired Lionel Jospin in many different positions.