Saturday, May 14, 2016

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Pigs

Not been back to France since January and have had three weeks of catching up with jobs, entertaining Art Guests and enjoying the easy pace and ambience of French living.

But there comes a point at which you realise you have to start upping the  pace and get back to contributing to the village and, the way I do that best is through my weekly teaching visits to the local primary school. Its only an hour a week, but I like to do the very best I can and fit in with the school day and curriculum.

Hence I sent an e mail to Madame the maitresse telling her the dates that I could attend and asking what topic she wanted me to cover. Now I have to explain that this is not a joint lesson, no team teaching or shared planning, she simply takes my copy of the lesson plan and gets on with her paper work, only contributing if I ask something specific. Her written reactions are much like her verbal ones so I was not surprised when the initial email reply was somewhat curt. Apparently the timetable has changed and they now go swimming on Tuesdays, which was my previous allotted day. Fair enough I'll do  Mondays same time I thought? Second e mail response, no that time clashes with dance! OK give me a day & time and what topic you want me to cover till June.

Now that's when the real trouble started, because she asked for 'histoire anglaise' plus pronunciation & comprehension of simple texts. Wow I thought, there's only four Mondays left this month, one of which is a national holiday and she wants me to teach the entire English History to 7~11 year olds in three hours. My mind was racing; what were the key points, I must do justice to our complex history, how can I put all that into simple text? I spent a  night considering how and which of the stories of Boudica, Roman Britain,the Magna Carta, Religion & Empire, the Industrial Revolution or two World Wars (to name but a few) I could compress into an understandable text for 'les eleves'. Ignoring the comments of my husband  to, start with Agincourt and explain how certain parts of France really belonged to the English throne, I finally came to the conclusion the task was impossible in the timescale allotted. So I e mailed again & explained that the topic of English History was 'enorme' and suggesting I could do something about the different countries within the UK and the regions.

She replied the next day that she understood and could I teach,  'd'une histoire d'un livre' . Now here's where my second mistake was made. Now 'livre can mean book or pound (as in weight or old currency) so I took her to mean she wanted  either a potted history of currency or worse still a three week topic around key literary books in English history? ! A spent a night scouring my brain to decide which were the key authors of our magnificent literary history, or how much I knew about the history of our currency. Dreams with Shakespeare and Dickens arguing about coinage or weights & measures followed, leaving  me even more confused.Finally, the next morning , a further mail arrived giving me times and clarifying what she really meant.

In French there are what teachers of this fine language call ' faux friends', these  are words in two or more  languages, that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning. For example, in English you go to a library to borrow books, but  in French a 'Librairie' is a bookshop. Similarly,'L'hotel de Ville', does not accommodate passing tourists wanting a bed for the night but is the municipal town hall. Most extreme of these faux friends is 'gymnasium; which refers to 'a place of education' in German and 'a place for physical education' in English, where as in its Greek origin it meant 'a place for naked exercise'...not to be confused. And 'livre' in French can mean book, pound (weight) or pound( money)

So my 'histoire' and 'livre' were faux friends, she neither wanted me to teach English history or the history of books or money, but children's stories and for them to read & understand simple texts. Clarified and relieved I acknowledged her e mail and agreed the dates.All this before I even set foot in 'l'ecole'.

How to move from 'Magna Carta' to 'Three Little Pigs' in one sentence, well I suppose it all the same really ; all about power, corruption, security for everyday people and words.
What was it my husband said once about this wonderful language? "I think French is like half empty boxes but you never sure what's  in them"...well mine were definitely half empty!