Michael Prestage examines a community education scheme in rural Somerset that mixes beginners' French with eating and drinking
The welcome sign put out by pub landlords Duncan and Jeremy Webb was, appropriately, in French. A quick check with the dictionary and a bit of rubbing out and "Bonsoir et bienvenue aux etudiants" passed muster.
It spells out "Good evening and welcome to the students", and it greeted the 14 people who had enrolled for a beginners' French course in a pub organised by Yeovil College in Somerset.
A corner of the bar at the Brewers Arms, South Petherton, will each week become an unusual classroom for evening-class students wanting to brush up on their holiday French.
Jeremy Webb thought it would be a good way of getting education out into the community: "This is a typical village pub and we get lots of groups meeting here and have the usual sports teams, but there has never been anything like this. It will be a novelty for the first few weeks then everybody will just accept it".
"We have done a menu in French and will be expecting to hear drinks ordered in the language. My French isn't brilliant, but I expect we will cope," he said. He wasn't disappointed. After course tutor Richard Newbury had completed the introductions a scene in a cafe was the starting point for the first lesson.
There was a chorus of "S'il vous plat" to attract the waiter. "Une bi re, s'il vous plat" followed for ordering the beer, and then "Je voudrais le plat du jour" for the menu of the day. When it came to"a votre sante", or "cheers", it wasn't just a classroom exerciseand glasses were duly raised.
Ms Newbury said: "As usual with evening classes, this was a mixed ability group, but everything went well and they were very enthusiastic. I have never taught in a pub before, but I can see the idea taking off.
"I know how difficult it is for people to motivate themselves after a day's work and being in a pub might help. I am a great believer in learning through fun, and this is fun."
Jeff Willmore, the college's marketing director, said the aim was to attract more people to college courses held in the community, but without resorting to traditional venues such as village halls.
"In a lot of rural areas the public house is the focus for a lot of community activity and we decided to run a pilot in one," he said.
He said the pub had to be a reasonable size, with a willing landlord, in an area that was not well served by community education and where the environment was friendly. It was not hard to identify the Brewers Arms. It happened to be Mr Willmore's local.
There is a waiting list for the ten-week Brewers Arms course with demand well outstripping the14-place maximum. Already, another pub has shown an interest in running a similar scheme. Mr Willmore hopes to extend the languages offered to include Italian and Spanish.
As the bar suddenly filled up, it was time for Ms Newbury to draw the first class to a close. On a Tuesday, French for beginners precedes a more traditional pastime - skittles night.