So last week was my last French lesson, and although it’s only been 9 days it feels like forever already. I still have another month in Paris so I could have continued, but I’m taking 2 weeks of holiday to travel around France a bit, so it’s not really worth going in March.
6 months ago, I started the classes with a bunch of people I didn’t know, including quite a few that I couldn’t understand. I guess they might have had the same experience with me too, as it seems like if you’re speaking a second language it’s quite difficult to understand other people who have a strong accent. Unlike the Dutch lessons that I took over 3 years ago which were for complete beginners, there was pretty much no English spoken in our French classes because it was assumed that we already knew enough to get by, which was mostly true. It keeps everyone on a level playing field, but it’s quite difficult to explain what a French word means to someone without being able to switch into your native language. Once we left the class though, any language went.
Our first teacher was called Jean Charles, and he had a big personality. Everyone has their own personality of course, but his really shone through and dominated the class. After a while we felt pretty at ease with him, and as we learned things we stopped saying quite as many stupid things that he’d make fun of us for. Not in a harsh way, just chiding us playfully, and he took particular pleasure in pulling up our English pronunciations of French words, such as “train.” Our time with him only lasted one month though, and at that time changing teacher wasn’t such a big deal.
Next up was Charlotte who didn’t seem to be much older than some of the students. She was very charismatic and friendly, and also very helpful. She also had an abundance of patience as she took us through all of the important verb tenses and explained the difference between the passé composé (I have eaten my dinner) and the imparfait (I ate my dinner) multiple times, and despite which I still have trouble deciding which to use. I always think that the problem is that I don’t know the names of the tenses or when to use each one in English, at least it just comes naturally and I don’t need to think about it. I find it really hard to learn grammar because they use terms that I have absolutely no idea about and I have no recollection of being taught in English.
I talk to one of the guys at work in French in the mornings for 15 minutes or so, and sometimes we switch into English. In either language we always end up asking the other person awkward questions about why you say something in a certain way, or the reason why a certain word is used instead of another. It really makes you realise how little you know about a language when you’re sitting there just saying “ummmmm…” while trying to dig up an answer. The French seem to be much more connected to the etymology of a word and can understand why they use it, while in English we just steal any bits of other languages that we like the sound of.
So anyway, myself and 2 or 3 other students started lessons with Charlotte at the end of September and she remained our teacher for 4 months, and over that time we built a pretty good class dynamic. Lots of other students came and went in that time, some coming along for a few months and other showing up for one class or two before disappearing. New students were allowed to join a class at any time, and sometimes it was interesting to get new students but if they didn’t stick around then it was a little annoying. Just as you started to remember their name they’d vanish. Thankfully most of the students stuck around for at least a month though.
After 4 months with Charlotte we all got to know each other pretty well during our 4 hours a week, and everything was informal and most importantly fun. During our last lesson she tried to reassure us that our next teacher was very nice and young and friendly too, but after 4 months I felt a little apprehensive. At the start of January when Charlotte was ill we had a different teacher for a week, and she treated us like primary school kids. She told us what type of stationary we needed to bring and generally didn’t seem to respect us at all. That was partly the cause of my trepidation. That and the general “better the devil you know” feeling that likes to avoid change.
After our last lesson with Charlotte the whole class went out for a beer, and it was an interesting experience. It’s the first time I’d been out to a bar and spoken (mostly) French, and it was OK until the barman tried to turn the volume of the music up. I normally have trouble understanding anything in noisy environments, but it was actually OK. At the end of the night, we said au revoir and went our separate ways.
When we started the following week with our new teacher, Marion. Everything Charlotte said about her was true, but things were just different but it’s hard to describe. She was a much more serious teacher, and we’d lost some of the students that made the class enjoyable as well as part of the group dynamic that we had.
I made it to the end of the course though, and I’m wondering if it’s worth continuing with my lessons when I go back to Amsterdam. On one hand I’ve really enjoyed learning as much as I have, it’s a language I enjoy, even though it’s one that I’m still completely rubbish at. On the other hand though, it’s not like I’m going to be very exposed to it when I’m in Amsterdam. Sure I have French colleagues, but I won’t be surrounded by it. I won’t see it on TV, hear it in the office and attempt to speak it when I’m in the shops.
One thing that I’ve realised both from taking French lessons and speaking to some friends in Amsterdam, is that I need to integrate a little better when I go back to Amsterdam, which means that I need to learn Dutch again if I’m planning to stay longer. It’s something that doesn’t sound like much fun to be honest, but that I’ll need to think about next month…