Where? The Limousin region of France, surrounding Limoges, with a small town called St Yrieix La Perche, where kaolin was discovered, which led to Limoges’ world reputation as a centre for porcelain, and it’s nickname as the “red city”, from the many furnaces. Just outside St Yrieix is Marcognac, a porcelain museum village, which shows the processes.
What? English week is a school holiday project, run by a local charity, Familles Rurales, to offer an experience to local children, at a very low cost, 25 euros for one child, 40 with a second in a family, for the week! 5 euros a day is approximately £3.50. Throughout the year the group offers English lessons for French and other nationals, French for the English and other expats, after school clubs from 3.30-4.30pm, such as “Lire et faire lire”, sharing books and a love of reading and a homework support club, from 4.30-6.30pm. With the breve (GCSE) and Bacc (A levels) being so high need, many children have to work extra to get up their all-round marks, including English. Getting less than 10/20 could disadvantage the next step.
All “teachers” are volunteers, mostly with some kind of teaching background and groups are relatively small. During English week, children had a two hour morning “lesson”, plus an afternoon of singing, country dance, craft, cooking, sports, swimming and a DVD afternoon (Frozen, with subtitles).
I’ve helped for a few years now, and make the journey to my little cottage, so I can also do necessary jobs; this time building a stair rail and a window grill.
The group is unknown to start and can range from complete beginner, through insecure to being prepared to have a good go from the first minute.
The basic survival rule is not to be over-planned, as there is a constant need to adjust, to the needs of the group and to the individuals that they become as the week progresses.
The children came from two different schools, the local town school and my local village school. There was a significant difference between their basic skills, which could be down to personal ability, but could also be a result of the centralised teacher appointment system in France. Teachers are put into schools by the local authority, then are personally inspected, with a “bonne note” meaning the chance to move to a better school, usually the town school.
The whole was practical, supported by practical activity, movement, and pictures. Imparting nouns was the easy bit. It’s the words that don’t conjure pictures that cause the problem, so I had to use French equivalents to exemplify. How do you draw an “and” or a “but”? So “show and tell” helped as did singing “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”, “If you’re happy and you know it”, or “Old MacDonald”.
If I have done nothing more than pique an interest in a different language, I will be happy.
And the sun shone!