A weekend to remember

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Prints, posters, McDonald's flyers and a lingering memory of garlic are among the souvenirs that 23 teachers, senior managers and a language assistant from Liverpool's Lister Drive infant and Lister junior schools took home from a weekend in Paris last month. The aim was to reinforce the schools' introduction of French from age four.

The "tourists" could scarcely have packed more into their 48-hour stay in the city of lights: Notre Dame, Montmartre and many other sights, hours of walking through the streets, shopping for teaching resources, getting lost and found, and seeking out restaurants that could take up to 15 people at one sitting. The group of 26 was split into 11 from the infant school and 15 from the junior school. Their guide, Rosa Valentini, a former language assistant in the UK and now living in Paris, spoke to them in French all day.

Most of the staff had not visited France since they were children and found the people were friendlier and more helpful than they expected. For a start, "They find the time to kiss each other on both cheeks, whereas we just say 'hello'," says Gina Kervin, who teaches Year 2 infants.

The locals seemed to appreciate the group's efforts to speak the language and patiently taught them some colloquialisms. "Perhaps they're used to the British shouting at everyone in English," suggests senior manager Tracy Gossage. Rather than pulling faces when the group got into a carriage en masse, passengers on the Metro stood aside to make space.

Resources shopping - there was not time for personal souvenirs - included French calendars and books of traditional tales. They also scoured Montmartre for prints and posters to decorate classrooms and a hospitality room that will be dedicated to the Impressionist artist Claude Monet.

Photographs of the group with Barnaby Bear, Metro tickets and an assortment of flyers, among them one from McDonald's, will help complete the presentation to the pupils. "They knew we were coming, and will be excited to see what we have brought back," said senior manager Angela Haughton.

John Cain, head of Lister junior school, tried escargots (snails) for the first time and liked them, despite the surprisingly large dose of garlic.

But andouillette, a tripe sausage, went down less well: he described it as "awful offal". Among other surprises were cheaper prices than expected, cars driving much faster than in London, and the need for a certain vocabulary to avoid being run over at staggered traffic light crossings.

Without exception, the teachers say their success in understanding directions and coping with other practical arrangements in French has given them more confidence and enthusiasm for teaching French. They would also like to return to Paris, particularly to take a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower and to spend more time in the Montmartre area.

They may get their wish next May, when the school is thinking about another Paris trip, but with an extra day. Mr Cain says it would be organised differently: split into smaller groups, with each given specific tasks to accomplish.

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