Two weeks of French lessons at Ecole Des Trois Ponts helped me find find French I had forgotten.
For almost 30 years I’ve been grappling with the French language. Since starting in high school at age 12, I’ve studied on-and-off over the years; through evening courses and half-hearted attempts to teach myself from a book. With a month-long stay in Paris coming up, panic began to set in. Through lack of practice and no formal lessons in five years, things had come off the rails.
My conjugations were forgotten, my vocabulary too small and my accent terrible. It was time to admit I needed professional help. It was time for a stint in French ‘rehab’. I checked myself in for a two-week stay at Ecole Des Trois Ponts, a residential French school set in a lovely villa at Roanne, in south-east France; just a two-hour train ride from Lyon.
Ecole Des Trois Ponts offers a range of small-group (maximum six students) or private French courses. Students can also opt to combine French language lessons with French cooking lessons, baking or even chocolate making. I’m told that the Chocolatier in charge of this course purchases a whopping 20 kilograms of chocolate for use in the classes. There’s something here for everyone with all levels catered for.
For me it was a simple need to revise what I knew that I knew but had forgotten, and hopefully progress a bit further on my learning pathway. I signed up for two weeks of General French classes, which kept most afternoons free to explore or relax.
In my first week I shared my classes with an amazing 84-year-old Scottish woman from Aberdeen; a retired doctor and musician. Still travelling and learning new things at her age, she certainly reinforced my belief in life-long learning. What an inspiration. In my second week I was joined by a group of students undertaking the French language and cooking course. Although I was not enrolled in the cooking program, I did get to sample many of the delicious treats prepared by the cooking group.
The style of the lessons was conversation-based. We revised grammar and corrected gaps in knowledge or errors along the way. I’m afraid in my case there were quite a few errors and gaps; some leading to cringe worthy moments.
Translating words directly from one language to another always fraught with danger. Take for example the verb ‘to take’ in English or prendre in French. In English we take our tea, we take a train and we take someone somewhere. But non! I learned in French we never use ‘to take’ when talking about people. It has a sexual connotation. We must use amener (to bring) or emener (to take) when we are talking about people or animals. Don’t even think about telling a French person you took your dog to the park! I can’t imagine how many times I’ve gotten that wrong and left a very bad impression. Why didn’t someone tell me before now? I won’t get it wrong again thanks to my time here.
Travels with my Teddy archive article from April 2011