Monday, April 6, 2009

A week spent in English

Last week was the Week of English. I haven't spoken this much English with people not related to me since I was in the US for December break.

It started on Tuesday when I met up with another girl from my town who works in one of the clothing stores. She picked up on my accent and immediately told me - in English - how much she loves speaking English. So we got together last week and spoke in English for a few hours over Perriers at a local café. I was very impressed by how well she speaks English, especially since she hasn't had much opportunity to speak it since last fall, but by any evaluation she spoke quite well. I think it was still more impressive that she was actually willing to speak with me in English. Most people here refuse to admit that they know a single word in English and are scared to speak to me in English.

Here we find a huge difference between the French and the Americans. If I were doing the assistant program in the US I know all the teachers at my school would have pulled out every word they could think of in French (bonjour, au revoir, and baguette probably being the only ones) to make me feel more at home. The French are so nervous about making a mistake that they would never dare to even say "hello" (unless they are of the creepy old man variety, or the annoying lycéen variety). This is a product of their education system and teaching styles, but that is a post for another day.

Anyway, Tuesday was a big success and it was really nice to meet up with English Buddy. Then on Wednesday I met with some local teachers and my conseillère pédagogique at the circonscription (elementary school district offices) to chat a bit in English. There were five teachers there, discounting myself and the CP, and only three of them talked. They (and my CP) speak English pretty well. We did have some vocab problems. They kept wanting to say "learn" instead of "teach," which is funny because in French they don't really distinguish between the two words and I had to explain it about three different ways before they figured out the difference! They also kept wanting to say "sympathetic" instead of nice. Do they not learn faux amis in France? But it was indeed a very sympathetic gathering, and we'll be doing it again on May 27th, so mark your calendars. All anglophones welcome.

Then on Saturday I was in Paris and saw my friend Amanda from Brandeis, Animesh, and Leesa. It was a busy day! Amanda and I went to a French Masorti congregation, which is roughly the equivalent of the Conservative movement in the US. Conservative is between Orthodox and Reform - women are equal to men, and we've discarded a lot of the silly laws, but we are still more traditional in our observances than Reform, while at the same time being a bunch of flaming political liberals. It was interesting. There was a guy from Congo there! I wish I were nosier and had asked him if he was a Jew by birth or by conversion. I mean really, Congo! That's maybe the last place in the world where I would expect to find Jews. But I just looked it up, and yes, there are indeed Jews and there is even a regional Chabad office. Click this link for a hysterical story about Jews and Chabad in Africa. There are also several African tribes who are of Jewish descent as determined by genetic tests, cultural practices, and some historical proof. Fascinating.

By the way, did you read about the rabbi in the Obama family?

Anyway, so Saturday was a lot of fun, even if I didn't get to eat Indian food because I had to get on the last train back to Picardie at 8 PM. I really am in a convenient location to get to Paris, but it's so annoying that the trains don't run later than 8, it really ruins my (mostly non-existant) social life.

I think my English definitely improved last week, probably at the expense of my French. It's nice to spend time in a language that I speak fluently and that I don't have to constantly think about verb conjugations and gender agreement and other gramatical ridiculousness.

Then on Sunday I woke up with a sore throat. And it's still sore today. I'm definitely sick. This is actually pretty amazing because it's only the second time I've been sick this winter (if you don't count the constantly drippy nose I've had since November). Considering the state of my immune system, that's a pretty good record. Last year I was sick all the time, including a bout with pneumonia (which I should have been admitted to the hospital for, but I'm stubborn).

Now here's hoping I don't get the chicken pox that's going through one of my classes.


Rose said...

...Ever wonder if the sore throat and English Week are related?


Marie said...

Hi ! I just found your blog and it looks nice ! I also have a sore throat and the doc gave me antibiotics (ouch).
I do really understand what's all about not talking to you in English. My guess is that we (French people)are not taught English very well and we don't want to sound stupid to any English-spoken person.
Even a mom who was doing the English class to "maternelle grande section" (kindergarten) with me stop reading the book after listening to me and I do have a French accent. It's some kind of "complexe" (how do you say in English ?), don't you think ?
About the trains, just rent a car so you can have fun in Paris whenever !!

au soleil levant said...

Rose - good point. Clearly English is bad for my health!

Hi Marie, welcome to the blog! I think you are right that the French are not taught English well, I have HUGE problems with the official programme and the fact that so many teachers who are habilité really shouldn't be, and the fact that they stop speaking once they leave primary school... it's a long list! Thanks for stopping by.