I’m thinking about new things happening during lockdown and one thing is unexpected subjects turning up in conversation now that we’re spending more time at home and, for some of us, more time than usual with the same group of people. I’m here in Wiltshire with Andrew, my husband, and our two adult children who’ve come home from university because of the Covid-19 emergency. We’re lucky to have enough space to spend time apart when we want to, to read our own books, listen to our own kind of music on our own electronic devices, with or without headphones. We have a garden and garden furniture to sit on.
I’ve been using the language app Duolingo on my phone for a few years and I appreciate it even more at the moment, it’s a welcome distraction and a means of engaging my brain at odd moments throughout the day. I’m mainly focusing on French, a language I started learning at school and then developed, partly because several of my siblings and their extended families are international and French-speaking. Partly as well because I lived in France for three years in my very early twenties when I worked as a children’s nanny. In fact that’s something I’m currently (slowly) writing about in a set of interlinked short shorties.
But I digress! The conversation that came up this morning was when I was sitting in our front room watching the world go by on our street and at the same time doing my daily French practice, including listening to and repeating French phrases. Andrew, who’d already finished an hour’s spin class on the static bike, came to sit in the same room and eat a bowl of cereal. Hearing the sound of my own voice repeating sentences in French, reminded me of the Language Labs at secondary schools I attended. “Do you remember Language Labs?” I asked Andrew. In between mouthfuls of cereal, he replied that he used them perhaps once in the whole five years of studying French at his comprehensive school near Bristol in the 1980s. “Only once?” I said, “I remember using them much more than that!”
Then we continued a conversation about how we were taught and how we felt about language-learning. Andrew remembers teachers speaking to him entirely in English, so he hardly ever heard French and didn’t know how to pronounce it. He left school feeling he hated speaking other languages and couldn’t see the point of them! But after leaving school and before going to university, he was offered a job in the south of France teaching canoeing and outdoor pursuits at a holiday camp and he then re-started his language-learning, its relevance beyond doubt.
What I remember most about learning French at school (as well as the language labs) is one fantastic teacher called Miss Joan Watts, whose lessons were conducted almost entirely in French. Miss Watts used mime, gestures and facial expressions as she spoke, in order to communicate. She taught me the trick of using ‘faire’ (to make or do) if unsure of which French verb to use and that in ordinary, non-academic settings, people cared about communication more than grammatical accuracy. It was because of Miss Watts’ teaching and encouragement (as well as the opportunity to speak French at family events) that I’ve always carried on learning French – and other languages. I always try to learn some key phrases and words whenever I visit another country.
But to return to the beginning, the point of this post was to think about these conversations and meanderings turning up during lockdown. Memories surfacing that haven’t seen the light for quite some time. I wonder if you’re experiencing something similar? Maybe even in French…?
By the way, this post is in response to the daily Discover Prompt from WordPress which I’m not really keeping up with very well.