Archive for April, 2009


I recently went to see Palme d’Or-winning French film The Class, or as it was called in the original, Entre Les Murs. The semi-autobiographical work is based on a book by former teacher François Bégaudeau, who plays himself in the film.

Over 120 minutes, we are shown a strikingly realistic depiction of Bégaudeau’s experiences of teaching at a high school in the 19e arrondissement in Paris. The film culminates in a pupil being expelled.

It was really interesting for me to see how this incident shows the French school system to be at once more liberal and more authoritarian than the English system.

Before the student is expelled he is invited to a tribunal where he can defend himself. The teachers then vote on whether he should stay or go. I cannot imagine this happening in England. Instead it would no doubt be a case of the headmaster laying down the law.

However, the chain of events which lead up to the student’s expulsion start with him disrespecting his teacher by tutoiying him i.e. using tu rather than the more polite vous. Would this have been looked upon so harshly in England?

This got me thinking about the differences between the French and English education systems. So I decided to interview French students at City University, London, who have gone through both systems, to see what they thought. See video clip below.


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My language buddy Léa

My language buddy Léa

The best way to improve your spoken French is to actually speak it. But not living in France can make this tricky. Even if you do live in L’Hexagone, you might not get as much opportunity to practise French with a sympathetic listener as you would like.

I live in South Kensington, London’s quartière française but I barely get a chance to converser en français. Or at least I didn’t until a couple of weeks ago. Then I discovered the language swap section on Gumtree.

I’ve written about my experience in this week’s TimeOut London (see p.44, if you’ve got it) but let me tell you a little bit about it here.

Forget having to pay for lessons. Hundreds of people on the site are offering their native French for your English. Reply to a post, fix a date and find a quiet place to have a drink.

My Gumtree adventure led me to coffee with Florent, a French guy from Nantes who lived in Barcelona for three years and brunch with Léa – a fluent French speaker who refuses to call herself French. (She’s Corsican and proud.) We spoke in French before the meal, in English during and after.

You too can find yourself a language buddy wherever you are. Gumtree has sections for all the major cities in the UK including Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, Dublin and some smaller towns such as Oxford. There are also listings worldwide: throughout Europe, North America and the southern hemisphere as well as a link to Kijiji, France’s equivalent of Gumtree.

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