March 2003

  The bright orange Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny day

Our vacation in California was fun and easy on our brains, because we could speak the language and we understood the culture. If we wanted information, we could simply ask without having to look up words in the dictionary first.

The day after we arrived in San Francisco, we went shopping for a prepaid SIM card for our French cell phone. We asked many questions, and explaining that we were visiting from France, we said that we just wanted to buy a card that would allow us to make calls on our tri-band phone during our visit.

As we were paying for the card, the salesman said, "Where did you learn your English? You speak it very well".

The sun setting on a french village
One language down; one to go. In the hope that someday someone might tell us that we speak French well, a few weeks after we arrived back in France, we repacked our suitcases and drove toward Lyon to a small village in the Beaujolais region. We settled into our room in the farmhouse at Fondvielle Language School and went for a walk around the nearby town of St.Vèrand. That evening we met our fellow classmates, our teachers and some of their neighbors and friends at a cocktail party before dinner. Since only French was spoken that evening, it was like diving into the deep end of the pool on your first day of swimming lessons.

fellow students sitting around the breakfast tableBreakfast was served in the farmhouse kitchen before our morning classes. Because English was spoken at breakfast, that was the meal were we could all get to know one another with questions asked and answered with ease. All of our classmates live in France for at least part of the year, and we found that we were all experiencing different versions of the same adventure.

We exchanged stories about why we chose to live in a country where we had to learn to speak a new language, and we tried to find the words to express exactly what it is that makes France such a lovely place to live. This is a conversation that we have had many times friends in the boating community.

After the breakfast dishes were cleared away, our classroom appeared and our school day began. We were seven, eight if you count Toby, divided into two classes by the level of our ability, with one class in the farmhouse and one in the main house.

We had morning and afternoon classes, and we did our homework in the hours in between. Our plans toour classroom walk in the countryside each afternoon usually gave way to the greater need to finish our homework. Writing an essay is a slow process when you have to look up the meaning of some words, and check the spelling on most. Each night as dinner time approached, we brushed off the eraser dust, and headed to the main house to enjoy a really good dinner of traditional Lyonnaise dishes served with a generous supply of the local Beaujolais wine. French was the language of choice at dinner, and with a teacher at each end of the table and a full day of speaking French already behind us, it was easy to relax and enjoy the evening.

Just like when we were kids, school was hard work and we complained about the amount of homework, but we also laughed often, enjoyed the company of our teachers and classmates, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

When our week was over, we said our thank you's and goodbye's, and drove to Lyon to do some errands. Full of new confidence, we marched up to salespeople and described exactly what we were looking for with more ease than ever before. We were in and out of each store in a flash, proving that paying attention in class and doing your homework really does help you succeed in life. We rewarded ourselves with a nice lunch.