I have realised that I am slowly learning French, but backwards. I’m not learning to talk in reverse or anything -regular speech is challenging enough, thank you very much, but chronic laziness has led me to the point that I can chat away, without any idea of the basics of grammar and structure. Up to this point, I have neatly avoided having to put in the hard graft of learning verb endings and conjugation, but sadly, my number is up. The hour has come, and I have finally been reduced to grammar exercises. Marie, one of our teachers, advised that I get a book for beginners, recommended a specific one in fact and made me take a picture of it. I dutifully bought this book and showed it to her, which provoked a minor cardiac event as apparently this book is apparently far too basic for me. (It is no such thing). There is something getting lost in translation here, I thinks to myself, and ignored her and went back to my beginner book. I couldn’t bring myself to start at the beginning, and therefore randomly started on page 67. After getting 83% of the answers wrong, I sheepishly returned to the start of the chapter on conjugating regular verbs in the present tense. It was most enlightening, and I should have probably done this months ago. I’m as far as the ‘futur proche’ now and feeling most accomplished. However, I am yearning somewhat for my previous state of blissful ignorance, when I had precious little comprehension of the grave assaults I had been making on the French language. So in fact what seems like progress is in reality transpiring as ten backward steps into stuttering. I am still making the mistakes, but now I feel guilty about them.
But now Marie, the more eccentric of our professors -there’s an interesting character, if ever I met one. She is exceedingly French, she chain smokes, she talks too fast, and she calls us her petit poissons. She is completely dedicated and workaholic, but loses all her students in the intricacies of the examples she gives. However, she is language mad, and speaks the Queen’s English with the very poshest London accent you ever did hear. “But of course!” she replied, when I commented on same. I think she believes that this is how English is meant to be spoken, but it sounds as entertaining to me as if she had randomly decided to speak English in a strong Cavan accent. Despite all this, I really like her, and enjoy her commitment to giving us not just a language course, but a cultural apprenticeship, as she refers to it. She encourages us to attend all sorts of cultural events at which we understand very little -the poetry readings are particularly bewildering -but she shows up at these events and herds us around like a flock of lost sheep. It appears that she spends most of her free time preparing lessons, correcting work and dreaming up games with over complicated rules for me and the Chinoises to play in class. (We were all completely mystified by her version of crossword-cherades that I am quite sure she invented on the spot). However, it seems most unjust that of our two profs, she is not the better teacher. We can contrast her with Jennifer, with her tinkly laugh and more normal approach, and frankly there is no competition. Jennifer more effectively reads the level of the class and pitches her lessons perfectly. Everyone is with her through all of the class and learning more. She does appropriate preparation and a normal amount of correcting, and overall her classes are far more enjoyable. It hardly seems fair. But I will miss them both, and even the Chinoises too, after I leave them for the last time tomorrow. At least they don’t seem to be the hugging type, these tiny women of Asia. I am the only person not continuing with the course next month and I don’t think I could cope with eighteen emotional goodbyes.