Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fun with languages

French Village Diaries Tempête Zeus
The destruction of tempête Zeus

It is early March and the March winds already seem to have joined forces with the April showers, leaving the ground soggy and our trees were bent double as tempête Zeus attacked from the north Atlantic yesterday.

We were lucky; a few power flickers and some loose tiles on the barn seem rather insignificant when compared to the loss of life, injuries, roof damage and long power cuts that were reported in the news this morning. It certainly seems that lazy afternoons spent in the garden followed by meals eaten in the shade of the terrace are a long way off, even if I’ve spotted the first spring blossoms.

It is especially important at this time of year to have something to keep me occupied, as the wind clattering around the roof tiles is enough to drive me crazy.

French Village Diaries fun with languages
Fun with languages - dictation

On Saturday I joined some French friends at our village library to have ‘fun’ with the French language. It was one of our regular dictée (dictation) afternoons. I can’t really remember doing too much dictation at school, but it is still an important part of the French curriculum and whether it is because it brings back fond memories of childhood or maybe a kind teacher, our dictées are always popular events.

While some attend with the aim of reproducing the chosen text without any spelling, grammar or misplaced accent errors, I am not that hard on myself. For me it is a quiet moment of concentration; I listen to the text, attempt to understand it and try to write down every word, paying attention where possible to grammar and verb endings. Realistically I know it is too fast (or rather I am too slow) to have the time to get it correct. However, as the only non-native French speaker there, they are kind and full of praise for what I do manage to achieve. I find that by focussing on what I am hearing in order to write it down, I see and understand things (like the dreaded liaisons – one word rolled into the next) that I often miss in a spoken conversation. It is hard work, but good fun and our efforts are always rewarded with cake, cider and friendly conversation afterwards.

Yesterday I was (hopefully) helping French people have fun in English. Monday lunchtime is my weekly English conversation club at the local secondary school, something I have been involved in since 2009. A small group of 11 year olds give up their lunch break to improve their spoken English by listening to real English people. The aim is to play games in English, so we can help their confidence and vocabulary and I’m sure they were glad to be out of the windy playground yesterday. I did consider talking about the weather, as the wind howled around outside, but our topic was food; something French people always seem to enjoy talking about and playing a game that led to them saying “I am a chicken” certainly made them laugh.

My afternoon was then spent at the school of nursing attached to the hospital in Niort, where for the first time I joined a team of volunteers who come in to talk to the student nurses, in English. Every year a small group of students are selected to study abroad as part of the Erasmus programme. This year two are off to Newcastle to work in paediatrics and two are off to Poland, (where they are hoping English will be spoken) to work in a surgical ward and as community nurses. The Erasmus student exchange programme has been providing foreign exchange options for students from within the European Union, thanks to cross-border cooperation between EU states, since the late 1980’s. Once the UK has invoked Brexit, doors will close for this programme, meaning a loss of opportunities for many students from the UK and the EU.


As well as ‘playing’ at being patients who have no spoken French, we also chatted in English about their lives and the expectations of their trips; anything to help their vocabulary and confidence in English. It was good fun and a good distraction from the battering from Zeus, plus it’s always nice to be able to give back to the community.

This post has been linked to Paulita's Dreaming of France blog link-up.