Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in a class run by Theatre Sans Accents (TSA). Fairly new to the Edinburgh scene, TSA teaches French in a practical, non-academic environment – and I should add, incredibly fun way. Founding member, Marion Geoffray has really given me a whole new appreciation of how much fun learning language can be – and actually, how it SHOULD be taught in schools!
Over the course of a two hour class, I found myself absolutely cackling with laughter, firstly at my own very dubious attempts to speak French, but also because many of the activities were genuinely great fun. Almost two weeks later, I’m still hugely impressed as to how many new things I learned and how skilfully Marion got everyone to join in and have a good time in doing so!
Given that it has been “some” time since I left school, I was initially worried that I wouldn’t recall enough of my GCSE French to take part in the class. I had visions of sitting through activities, utterly clueless as to what was going on. So much so, I dragged my Mum along to the class on the theory that it had been even longer since she had learned any French!
(Mum of course, knows far more French than I do, so that was a bad call – but I think she had fun too!)
My fears of course, were completely unrealised, as I was quickly put at ease by Marion who assured me that it was fine to make mistakes and to speak a bit of ‘Franglish’ if my vocal was lacking! As it was my first class I was allowed to introduce myself in English (although this was the bit I totally could remember from school!) – but I then had to say one good thing and one bad thing about my day.
You would think panic would set in at this point, but I remembered something my teacher from High School had told me – don’t try to translate what you want to say, but rather think about what you can say and use that!
What I could say – was that I was very tired – which was true, and of course was a suitable thing to use for being a bad point to my day. As to a good thing, I could say that I played with my baby Thomas!
I’m pretty sure my grammar was questionable, but my point is this: even someone with the most basic level of French (me) could come up with something. I also thought this was also a very clever way to start the class because it was such a practical skill to develop.
I always found school French a little bit daft – for example, I remember this unit of work where we had to learn how to describe our houses with phrases such as ‘I have a dishwasher in my kitchen’ or ‘I can see cliffs from my window’.
Maybe one day I’ll find myself renovating a house in France and be grateful for this unit, but I remember thinking that if I went and actually spoke to anyone French they were going to think I was the biggest weirdo!
Each activity Marion led us through felt ‘useful’ in that I could see a practical use for the vocabulary we were learning – or were put into situations in which we needed to use the random things we did know!
Three activities were real highlights for me:
The first, was a challenge in which we had to take it in turns to draw slips of paper from a hat, and mime the colloquial expression written on the paper in French and literal English. This was obviously really challenging because first, miming is tricky at the bed of times, but because some of the phrases make little sense in English!
I kind of wanted a vocab sheet to take away at this point because all of the phrases were new to me (and I would’ve liked to swat up), but I thought it was fascinating to think about how we develop different sayings that of course make no sense to anyone not native – but of course, by including these in your repertoire, is how to become more adept at speaking (and understanding) and language.
The one that particularly stuck with me was ‘broyer du noir’ – literally ‘to crush some dark’ but really means, to have negative thoughts. I guess an English equivalent would be to be down in the dumps!
Watching people mime is always funny at the best of times, and of course, incredibly frustrating when it’s your turn – I think I got off lightly having to mime that I had a cat in my throat!
My second favourite was probably learning a French fable involving ‘Maître Corbeau’ and ‘Maître Renard’ or rather, Master Crow and Master Fox. After reading through the text, and having it translated into English, we divided into pairs to rehearse the piece.
In pairs, one person read the printed text, and whispered to the other phrase by phrase. The “listener” was supposed to repeat the lines without the benefit of the script. This made me try ultra-hard to pronounce the words clearly, and tested my listening skills.
Finally, easily my favourite activity was having to select an object from the room to present in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ scenario. It was this moment, I almost had a panic at the idea of needing to speak for a minute about an object chosen from the room. However, once again, I worked from the mantra of ‘use what you know…’
What do I know in French? Lots of foods.
Randomly, I found myself presenting a large flower pot… which of course, can be used as a bowl for a large number of food items. You would think the holes wouldn’t be ideal for orange juice but if you think that, then you’re clearly ‘zin zin.’
My performance was obviously dodgy, and other participants in the class were MUCH more adept at presenting their items. My hat really has to go off to the lady who presented a large shell as a solution to cellulite (I think this one got everyone laughing!).
In summation, what else can I say? Maybe it was the novelty of being out in the evening without children, but I’m still reeling in amazement at how much I enjoyed my evening. For anyone keen to learn a bit more French, or for anyone keen to utilise what they do know, just go along and try it out – if baby Thomas hadn’t been howling by the time I got home, I would most certainly be going back this week!
There are a number of adult classes available – for varying levels of ability – but also Saturday classes available for ‘Enfants’ aged 7-12. You can check them all out and find more details on their website here – I really could not recommend them more highly.