Assistants found in translation

"Grumpy old man" Arthur Smith and ex-Liverpool soccer manager Gerard Houllier were reminiscing about their cross-Channel teaching experiences at a centenary celebration of the language assistants' programme at the British Embassy in Paris last week.

Today it involves 22 nations worldwide. Each year, 1,000 young British assistants teach in French schools, and 1,500 French assistants come to Britain. But its aims remain to "expose learners to real language" and "aid their understanding of neighbouring countries and cultures".

Smith taught Cockney to the son of President Valery Giscard d'Estaing at a posh Parisian lycee in the 1970s. And the future comedian also learned to do a faultless imitation of the Frenchman of popular image, steeped in pastis and Gitanes, indignantly expostulating in a smoky bar.

Houllier, now manager of Olympique Lyonnais, spent 1969 to 1970 at Alsop comprehensive in Anfield. He chose Liverpool because the city had two football clubs. His pupils immediately challenged him on which team - "red or blue" - he supported: "You had 10 seconds to decide, and whatever the answer you never saw half the class again."

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