Lifelong liaisons

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
The Queen is due to visit President Chirac and the French parliament this week to mark the centenary of the Entente Cordiale. It was signed on April 8, 1904 and has held firm through two world wars and much Euro wrangling. The pomp will herald a year of celebrations that will highlight the flourishing relations between the two countries at every level (see www.entente-cordiale.org) .

From the baguette stalls in our train stations to the stars in our football teams and TV shows on relocation, Gallic culture and people are a familiar part of our lives.

British visits to our neighbour rose from 6.9 million a year to 11.9 million in the Nineties, assisted by the opening of the Channel tunnel 10 years ago on May 8. Meanwhile, French visits here rose from 2.3 million to 3 million. Among the travellers have been those involved in a thousand town-twinning arrangements.

Official events will include a parade of ships at Brest, joint Bastille day celebrations, a celebrity London-Paris cycle race, a charity pop concert and a Turner-Whistler-Monet art exhibition.

Towns and schools will celebrate their own partnerships, led by the people of Lille (linked to Leeds for 35 years), who are visiting Yorkshire this week. With Eurotunnel offering 8,000 free cross-channel trips to twinning organisations until the end of 2005, this could catch on.

For schools, this is an opportunity to think afresh about how links with French-speaking people can enrich learning, broaden horizons and prepare pupils for an internationalised world, as well as reinforce languages, history and geography. For students, it's a chance to make friends and engage with cultures as far apart as France, Tahiti, Quebec and Senegal.

Brendan O'Malley TES international editor The contents of this magazine are the responsibility of the Times Educational Supplement and not that of the British Council.

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