The many benefits of learning French
“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.” Rita Mae Brown (American novelist and poet)
In today’s world it is virtually impossible to be the product of just one culture. People here in England are sometimes half-English, a quarter Irish and another quarter Scottish ; or they are half-German, half-Scottish, or they think of themselves as 100% English but know there is an aunt somewhere down the line who was probably French or Italian. Somewhere in the past there is always an encounter and a mix. When I met Hugo, 25 years old, a very English sounding and looking young man -apart from that brand new and distinctive French béret he had elegantly placed on his head- he was so enthused by his newly rediscovered French side (50%) that he wanted to wear it for all to see.
Two weeks prior to our encounter, he had been on holiday in France, with his French Dad, to visit his French grandparents. For the first time in 14 years. Hugo explained that he had in fact meant to visit them a few times along the years, for after all he had spent many a great holidays with his French family as a child, hiking, canoeing, rock climbing and the like in the Dordogne area, where all of his French relatives still lived. But he had not been, due to various reasons : Mum and Dad splitting up, school exams, friends to hang around with, and of course the classic “the thing is, we don’t even speak the same language!”. In short, the little bit of French he had acquired as a youngster had somewhat faded away, although not entirely…
As one might expect, the prospect of the encounter had been slightly nerve-racking for both parties ; Hugo had transformed into a man, the grandparents had aged, the cousins were all grown up too… and nobody -apart from the Dad/translator - could really speak more than a few words in the other language. I was told the grandmother had immediately fallen into Hugo’s arms and would not let go, the grandad had discovered with satisfaction that Hugo had a lot in common with him (photography, music, dislike of vinegar 😊…), and the cousins were delighted to share a few days with a very handsome English boy! There had been sharing and updating on everyone’s life and all had a wonderful time, but Hugo had felt a little frustrated all the same. He would have liked to ask more questions, understand more, speak to his grandparents about things that mattered to him.
The holiday carried on in the beautiful Dordogne, because Hugo wanted to show his girlfriend all the things he had done, and all the places he had gone to with his Dad as a child. Freshly enthused by the reunion with his too long forgotten French family, Hugo had done his best to muster the shreds of language he still possessed – GCSE work and Dad’s silly jokes mainly- to use on people he met on holiday. That too had left him wanting more.
And so Hugo found himself face-to-face with me on Skype last September. Hugo lives too far for lessons in Tunbridge Wells each week, so we have them on Skype instead. It’s easy! After all these years, he was finally ready and excited to reclaim his Frenchness and make of the next summer visit a spectacular success! Good lad!
So… we have been working at a steady pace for nearly a year now and it is amazing, and really encouraging, to see how much Hugo can actually remember of his past French phrases and grammar. He is a very bright young man, but added to that is a strong determination to be completely in charge next time.
I cannot tell you yet what the second reunion will be like, as it is to happen in a couple of weeks, but I can tell you Hugo and girlfriend are going to France ahead of Dad, for a whole week. Alone. Then Dad is meant to join them at the grandparents’ house later on ….
Oh, I love my job !
Owner and French tutor at Cassis French Tuition
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