Let them eat cake, and order it in French

5th June 2009 at 01:00

Quoi? Asking for a pie in French is not a life skill, according to Penny Ward (May 22).

If I hadn't been able - thanks to Mr Baxter at Regent House Grammar - to ask for my tartes and tourtes in the local lingo during the four years I was lucky enough to spend in Strasbourg in the Nineties, I might have fewer fillings but my life would have lacked a certain je ne sais quoi.

I suppose I could just have pointed at things in Cafe Koenig andor spoken very slowly in a loud voice in English, but I suspect it would not have been as much fun and might have annoyed those serving me.

As for the 40 pupils I recently took to Alsace, they seem to have found the manger et boire chapter of their textbook "useful and relevant". The pains au chocolat they were knocking back with their cafe creme certainly seemed to be "upping" their self-esteem. Their behaviour was far from "atrocious": before leaving, they thanked the waitresses in French and made sure they knew they were from Edimbourg en Ecosse.

These confident individuals, responsible citizens, successful learners and effective cake-eaters not only got exactly what they wanted - that great big, pink gooey one with the strawberry on top right at the back - they also had the satisfaction of knowing they had done it in French, that the "relationship skills" honed in dozens of role-plays at school were finally paying off. Not only did that give them a kick, it has assured the next coach sporting a saltire of a warm reception and excellent service.

Ms Ward, why don't you come along with us next time (October 2010) and see why it's important for pupils to continue with their foreign language.You'd be very welcome - just as long as you get in the first round of tarte a l'oignon.

James Poots, principal teacher of modern languages, Lasswade High School Centre, Midlothian.

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