Elementaire, my dear Watson

“But I remember more dearly autumn afternoons in bottoms that lay intensely silent under old great trees”  - C S Lewis

The leaves on the trees are changing to infinite shades of red and orange, the temperature is dropping overnight and it pays not to leave the house without an umbrella. Autumn is well on the way here in France. Miss Two is enjoying the crunch of the dead leaves and the fun of splashing in puddles (gumboots on or not). It is a lot colder in the morning on the way to school now but usually warms up in the afternoon to around 16-18 deg.

School In France 

So far Master 6 has had three full weeks in French school. He is in a public primary school(elementaire) with around 100 students. From what we had read, the English students that go straight into public schools learn the language a lot faster than the ones that go to the International bi-lingual schools (which are often very expensive ie 7000 euros per year). The public schools are allocated according to where you live so we did not get a choice which one he attended. However, we are pretty happy with it so far. It is about five minutes walk from our apartment and is newly built, with classrooms arranged in a circle around a central court. He is in a class of 27 kids; 21 are in CP Cours Preparatoire and 6 are in CE1 Cours Elementaire. We were surprised that there is no cost for us to send him to a public school; including swimming lessons, books, school trips. There are also no school uniforms here and, I must say, the children here dress very well, usually in jeans and nice jackets.
See my info on getting enrolled in school here: Moving to France? - Enrol in School

The teacher told us she has taught English-speaking children before and they learn the language very quickly. I think Master 6 was in some sort of shock for the entire first week. Then came two weeks of school holidays. After the holidays, he was not keen to go back to school. However, a good reward chart can do wonders and he told us a couple of days ago that he had the best day of his life. He has got a group of friends. Also, I am absolutely shocked at how good he has become at French in the last couple of weeks. He is forming sentences like je n'ai pas oublie mon ticket (I haven't forgotten my ticket). He is not always grammatically correct but his vocabulary is expanding so rapidly. Dave and I are jealous that 1) his brain is still in language-learning sponge mode and 2) that he can fully immerse himself in French each day and learn almost without trying. Surely, he will thank us for it some day?

So far, he has said that they 'do more work' at school here, meaning the children sit down and write a lot more. It sounds like the classroom is meant to be quieter and there is less interaction with the teacher. Master 6 said someone in the class had to write "I will not chat in class" as punishment (I am not sure if this true). The children are learning to read and there seems to be more of an emphasis on the phonics (sounds) involved. For example, 'I hear [wa] and I see oi eg roi'. He had his first English lesson this week and the children sang the ABC song and Eensy weensy spider. Then they sang it in French: L'arraignee Gypsy (listen here). 

French schools have a two-hour lunch break which is a nod to the traditional French way of life with emphasis on the social aspect of eating and family time. Most children today eat at the cantine if their parents work. I was speaking to the school doctor last week and she explained about the meals served at the canteen. There is a salad starter, warm main, then cheese course, then dessert. The mains are things like a rice dish or quiche. Dessert is usually fruit or yoghurt. It is all very healthy and there is only one option. The children have to sit down for at least thirty minutes, which teaches them to eat slowly and savour their food. Children here eat things like beetroot salad or crudités as they are served first, when they are hungriest. It is no wonder there is a very low childhood obesity rate here.

Coiffe me

This past weekend marked two months that we have been in France. We were all looking decidedly shaggy and well in need of hair cuts by this time. So we put on our game faces to go to the local coiffeur. This is not easy in a second language if you think about all of the specialised vocabulary you need, small talk to be negotiated, not to mention trying to understand while water is being poured on your head or hair dryers are droning! All was going well for a start: Dave had his hair washed and we asked for a number 4 clippers and scissor cut on top. It turns out a number 4 here means 4 millimetres (instead of around 12mm), so a little closer to the skin than we expected. The hairdresser evened up the other side so it matched and you can't really even tell now. I asked for 'shampooing coupe et brushing' which is a wet cut and style. I think it is one of the best cuts I have had.

French Language Hacks: The following are common phrases used in the spoken language - probably not in french class. The most important thing is to keep it simple.

There are some great little sayings in French which can be used for many things:

1) Il y a - There is / there are - great because you don't have to worry about number / gender
Il y a deux choix There are two choices

2) Il faut - We have to
Il faut payer en especes? Do we have to pay in cash?

3) Ca va - How are you going? Are you ok? as a question or I'm fine as an answer

4) Ca marche - That's fine / that will work (similar to all good in kiwi)

5) Ce n'est pas grave - It doesn't matter / no problem

6) J'arrive - I am coming (shortly) or I am getting there / managing

7) Allez - come on / go on / off you go

Always be polite, use hello / goodbye bonjour / bonsoir thankyou merci goodbye au revoir at the very minimum with any conversation, no matter how brief.

In addition, French people will usually wish you a good evening / meal / walk / just about anything when you take your leave. The weirdest ones we have had were bonne degustation (enjoy - literally good digestion) and bonne route (have a safe trip - literally good road). You can either say thankyou or wish them one back.

See my previous post about starting French school here: Stamped, queried and signed in triplicate
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