There's much chatter here about education reforms and the offer of free "intensive" English courses for French schoolchildren during the summer and February holidays. Apparently the aim is to make sure they are all fluent in what they call here "the language of Shakespeare" by the time they hit the workplace. I was talking to one of France's most respected linguists about this and I could tell he thought it was a really bad idea. He came up with all sorts of cultural, historical, colonial reasons for French apathy and antipathy towards the English language but his trump card was that English is too difficult because it is so idiomatic "How do you explain to someone you can hedge your bets but not hedge-bet" I nodded in agreement because he is respected and obviously very clever and respected for being clever but afterwards, when I thought about it, I wasn't so sure. About the hedging bets that is, not his cleverness.
I think French is quite hard but that's because although I have a deceptively convincing accent - or so I'm told - I frequently say something stupid. Sometimes it's because of faux amis and sometimes because I don't think and out pops something like I am "sur le train" a literal translation of "on the train" when what I mean is I am "dans le trains" or "in the train" and "sur le train" conjures up Charlie Chaplinesque images of me clinging to the roof of a TGV screaming silently while some black and white villain with "VILLAIN" on his shirt and a curly moustache beats my knuckles with a monkey wrench. Then again that's more idiot than idiom.
La Fille will certainly be having intensive school holiday courses in English; with me - or her grandparents - in England. Today's English lesson was watching Mary Poppins. "I don't think this is my kind of film," said La Fille two seconds after the opening credits when she realised there were no lions, zebras, monkeys, mammouths, bees, elephants, penguins, insects, one-eyed mutants or amorphous blobby things in it. "I don't care, we're watching it. It is in English," I said. I am at least consistent. "Besides it's a classic." And it is, in spite of Dick Van Dyke's lamentable accent, the stuffed robin that looked as if it was nailed to Julie Andrews' finger and the moral messages as subtle as silent film captions. A classic, despite being sugary and twee and set in 1910 so you know in a few years Mr Banks will be packed off to a European trench never to return just as he's getting to know his children and Bert will get lung cancer because he keeps sticking his head into belching chimneys and no amount of jolly nanny nonsense will magic these things away.
La Fille soon gave up trying to copy Bert's tap dancing on the 200-year-old Hungarian point parquet, became bored and spent the rest of the film telling me to "shut up singing" and trying to poke me in the eye with a sharp stick. Later as I put her to bed she asked me to tell her the "new words" she'd learned. "Which new words?" I asked thinking Cat, Hat, Bat, Rag, Sag. She said: "The ones you were singing really loudly." (Perhaps she said badly.) "What? Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?" "No, no the other one." I racked my brains: the other one, the other one. "Chim Chiminey?" "Yes, that one. Is it English? What does it mean?"
There is a good reason I am not a teacher.
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