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Thursday, January 6, 2011

English Faux Pas

Recently I had been told of a conversational group that had started up in my village, designed, someone said, to permit French-speaking people to learn English and English-speaking people to learn French. I was quite excited about it although my heavy work schedule meant I had to miss the first few meetings.

Today, despite a still rather onerous schedule, I was determined to attend the two-hour gathering. I spied one familiar face, Marie-Laure, a dynamic and delightful French woman who is a friend to the woman who sold me my house and had dropped by shortly after I arrived in Martizay last year to introduce herself. Her lack of English and my lack of French weren't enough to deter either of us. So I was pleased to see a friendly face.

I was disappointed, however, when I discovered that, instead of being a conversational exchange, this was simply a beginner's course in English for French speakers. Reluctant to be rude and just walk out, I elected to stay for today's session and try to do all the assigned exercises in French instead of English. Marie-Laure kept an eye on my work and corrected any mistakes while doing her own work at the same time.

A bit of a stickler for grammar, I was dismayed to see the first example the teacher, a volunteer British Martizay resident, put up on the board. She was illustrating how to make a negative statement out of an affirmative one. She wrote, "I am good," followed by "I am not good."

I bit my lip and wondered if I'd make it to the end of the two hours without tearing my hair out if this continued. I was half-expecting her to write "I could of" instead of "I could have," another glaring error that seems to be growing in popularity now, likely due to how few people bother to pick up a book these days and actually see the language.

I weathered the class with reasonably few winces (it was a friendly, fun group) and, when they announced that the volunteer teacher would be away for the next two weeks, I asked the program coordinator off to one side who would be teaching. Marie-Christine shook her head sorrowfully and whispered, "No one."

I knew I had a pretty demanding schedule but I couldn't help myself--this would be a great way to become a more familiar face to some of the villagers without being handicapped by my dearth of French. I asked if there was anything I could do. Marie-Christine's face brightened and next thing I knew I had agreed to return next week to teach the class.

Maybe if I do a good job, Marie-Christine will work with me to start a real conversational exchange group. My English may be above average but Lord knows my French sure ain't!

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