Linguistic Skills in the Charente

I'm still looking to implement some of the linguistic skills I was taught at school and though I've been living in the Charente for nearly five months, that golden opportunity still hasn't popped up.

I did learn French when I was younger, but there isn't a huge amount from those lessons that comes into use on a daily basis. If all I ever needed to know was "where do I find the train station?", "is there a shower in my hotel room?" or "please may I buy a kilo of tomatoes?", then my life over here would be blissful. What they don't tell you in school is that there's often very little need for those choice phrases if you're planning on coming to France for any longer than a week.

What's more, the people you hear on those listening tapes speak in crystal clear Parisian accents, at a rate that probably sounds, to the average French native, as if they're about to have a stroke. What would have been more useful at school would have been to have a seventy year old French farmer, on speed, with a heavy Charentaise dialect, talking at about a thousand words a second.

What they also never prep you for when you're learning French at school, is the wild gesticulations that often accompany conversation. The French are very passionate about their language it seems, and a friendly chat about this year's grape harvest can look like, to the untrained eye, a call to arms and combat. It can be very disconcerting to a lonely Brit who would rather bleed to death than call an ambulance, for fear of attracting attention.

Furthermore, I'm beginning to question the authenticity of the names of all of those kids in my French textbook- I haven't met anyone called Sebastian or Stephanie yet and I'm starting to feel cheated! And, is it just me or did everybody live and work in La Rochelle when you studied French? I when to a concert there back in October and it almost felt like a pilgrimage!

So my advice, at the end of all that, is not to abandon French lessons or strike them off schools' curricular. On the contrary, I think language lessons should start much earlier for most of us English-speakers so that we can get a much broader appreciation of the scope of those languages.

Of course the best way to learn is by full immersion. Come over here, have a go and don't worry about getting it wrong first time around. It helps a lot to have a firm foundation to work from, undoubtedly, but what you learn in a week of continuous exposure to French life, culture and people, you will never learn in any classroom.

Bonne chance!