Carolyn McInnes went on a course to revamp her knowledge of contemporary France and revitalise her linguistic reportoire.
Waterloo Station at 1 pm on Sunday, July 14. I hovered around the Eurostar area trying, unsuccessfully, to distinguish likely candidates for the "French Teachers' Refresher Course" from the many other travellers busily checking timetables and tickets - who says teachers are recognisable in any crowd? Carnations in lapels or "French verb tables" in hands would have been useful at this point, but suddenly the more obvious "LINGUA FRENCH COURSE" sign appeared - and towards it we all flocked. Seventeen French teachers from various parts of the UK heading for Paris and the first such in-service course organised jointly by the Centre Francais de Londres and the Ecole Paris-Langues.
The Eurostar whisked us all off to the Gare du Nord and from there we made our way to Versailles to meet the families with whom we were to lodge for the next two weeks. My hosts, Jean-Marie and Marie-Luce Blui, were a wonderfully welcoming couple of journalists who live in a lovely rambling old house with an equally welcoming parrot whose continual chat that first evening included such classics as "A table s'il vous plait" and "Merci. Charmante soiree". At night as I closed the shutters on the distant sounds of the Bastille Day fireworks I couldn't help feeling that as in-service courses go things were looking good so far!
The next day, after a 40-minute RER and metro journey into Montparnasse, we all found the school, and each other, at impressively close to the appointed time of 9 o'clock. Our welcome talk included an outline of our programme, some general information about the school and current social events in Paris and, just as we were relaxing and considering our social life for the next two weeks, an oral test and written grammar test were thrust upon us and we are split up into language groups. The work had begun.
From then on the days followed the same pattern: language study for three hours in the mornings and cultural or curricular activities in the afternoons.
The language classes were, by common consent, the best part of the course. We rediscovered the intricacies of passive subjunctives, delved into the origins of words and phrases, discussed the historical and social development of the language and practised our slang and "verlan". We went deadly quiet when trying to solve our grammar exercises, hooted with laughter at our teacher's reactions to some of our faux pas, and scribbled furiously during all of her explanations.
Every day these three hours passed in no time and we all headed for the canteen, whose food could have been that of a four-star hotel and where the terrace became a favourite place to have coffee and take advantage of the heat of this Parisian summer.
The afternoon sessions included a historical tour of the Louvre, a treasure hunt in the Marais, a fascinating session about French story-telling, a visit to the "Documentation Francaise" and workshops on video materials and the "lettrevideo" scheme. We also got the chance to view language teaching CD-Roms at the "Didacth que de La Villette" (part of the Cite des Sciences).
The sessions on classroom resources were considered to be relatively unhelpful as the methodology demonstrated was not compatible with our teaching techniques in this country (something which Brigitte Verpraet, Directrice of Paris-Langues willingly took on board for the next course).
We all had our favourite afternoon activities, but mine was easily the music session, led by the singer Chantal Grimm, during which we listened to, wrote and performed the kind of songs (and dance) through which language can be taught. It was a lovely way to finish the two week course, and all that remained for the next day was the summing up, and the goodbyes.
Some of us stayed on in France for a while; others immediately retraced the Eurostar route back to Waterloo, but, wherever we were heading we all took with us an increased linguistic confidence, a revamped knowledge of contemporary France, lots of new addresses - and some very good memories.
Advanced Teachers' Refresher Course (French) Travel, subsistence, course fees and accommodation funded by Lingua. Pounds 100 school contribution, Pounds 50 personal contribution. For details of future courses, contact Francoise Capdeville, Centre Francais de Londres, 16 Leicester Square, London WC2H 7NH. Tel: 0171 734 0733.