Definitely (Not)

How to brighten your teacher’s day: give her something to laugh at! One day last week our wonderful teacher Julienne asked me a question. I replied confidently “Definatellement !” Cue a spontaneous roar of laughter from the whole class. Julienne in particular seemed moved to tears by my eloquence.

“Good pronunciation, Chris,” she encouraged “but it’s not a French word.” Oops. This is the third or fourth time I’ve done the same thing in class: try to invent a new French word. Except this time I was 100% convinced it was a real French word.

Ah well, maybe I should try to get a job with L’Académie française, the organisation which guards the French language and considers, very carefully, if any changes or additions (or, horror of horrors, deletions!) should be made. Perhaps they would value my insights… or not.

We both have tests this week. In my class the major one was this morning. Plus another unannounced one. Tomorrow Joanna has her major test, and each person in my class has to make a presentation on one aspect of all that we’ve covered to date. And I’ve another test to come at some “Surprise!” time in the week.

We are both feeling a bit numb in the brain department to be honest, and are really really looking forward to the end of term (Friday: we get a week off). What we’re experiencing is par for the course: someone in my class who started in September told me that for the last two weeks of that term he was almost brain-dead: he stopped doing homework and when asked a question in class it was rabbit-in-headlights time. That was an 8-week term, this one is 6 weeks; I know I’d be the same if I had to do another two weeks.

However, and it is a very big however, the style of teaching, hard as it is for the students, does get results. It works. And the teachers are really good. And we’re doing it for the glory and advancement of the Kingdom of God.

A Walk In The Woods

One of the things I really like to do every now and then, especially if life has been a bit harder than usual or I need to clear my head, is to take a walk in the countryside. I really like woodland, there’s something calming and refreshing about the woods for me.

A little to the North of us is a large wood called la Forêt Domaniale de Verrières, which I’ve wanted to visit even before we arrived! It’s about 35 minutes walk to the nearest corner, though, so I had not had the time to get to it…

Until today. The forecast was for heavy continuous rain. I was determined not to be put off, so on went the waterproof overtrousers and the waterproof shoes and the waterproof coat and my trusty hat. Thirty five minutes later I arrived at the beginning of the woods:

01 A few minutes further on I reached the access track I’d chosen, here it is looking back down to the road and then up past some vegetable patches:

0204The veggies were soon left behind:


Winter woods are not that exciting, I grant you, but to me it was a taste of heaven! I skirted round the edge of the escarpment for a while before choosing a descent path, very steep to begin with, then becoming very pleasant:


This gave out into a lovely valley:

20160213_11321720160213_113107All too soon it was time to head back home… but with a lighter heart and a refreshed spirit.

Please Start Now

A quick extra note on the theme of language. We are very pleased that we started refreshing our French language knowledge as soon as we knew God was calling us to France. Although the effectiveness of the various things we did over those two years varied quite a bit, we have certainly benefited a lot from what we’ve done.

We have met some fellow-students who were told by their mission not to do any French language preparation before they came to France. I have to say I personally believe that to be bad advice, which leads to unnecessary difficulty. If we’d followed advice like that then we’d be really struggling now. Part of the reason for this is that the school is intended to be a total immersion experience: everything is done exclusively in French.

If you believe God is calling you to country X, my advice would be to start learning or refreshing the language just as soon as you can. From our experience, the most effective way may well be to work with a personal tutor who is a native speaker of the language.

Professional language teachers are welcome to contribute their thoughts, I could be wrong!

And… Breathe

This has been a tough week for us both, but we’re still here and still trusting God!

Joanna’s neck, shoulders and arms are hurting bad, so she decided to have a week off writing, as much as possible. Not ideal at school, as you can imagine, but it has helped a bit and her teacher has been very understanding. We continue praying for a breakthrough in this.

Monday morning for me was a new grammer topic: asking questions. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? For very simple questions (like “Excuse me, what time is it?”) then questions in French are indeed simple. For more complicated questions, there are rules (there are always rules in French…) and to this Englishman they weren’t especially intuitive.

I eventually got my brain around it all sometime on Wednesday evening, after going back to first principles and working it out from scratch. Good! But we had a test on Thursday morning covering that and a bunch of other things which comprise a certain unit of our course. I wasn’t best prepared for the test, having only had chance for one quick read-through of my revision notes. It was also the first time-limited test and I didn’t finish everything. I’m resigned to a poor mark. Hey-ho.

Oh, and then, on completing the test, just when I thought we’d have an easier rest of the morning… we had another test! At which I did rather badly (we marked it straight afterwards), not having revised: it was always intended to be a surprise test, but I thought it would be sometime on Friday.

Patisserie was needed with lunch on Thursday to aid recovery.

It was really good, however, to have been given the opportunity to share from the Bible at the small Église MLK Massy church plant meeting on Tuesday evening. I talked from John 12 for about 20 minutes: the first time I had done this in French for French people (rather than for my class at school). The pasteur said I was clear, which was encouraging. I had thought it would be some months before this kind of opportunity would come along, so it’s great to start getting experience at this stage. It did take a looooooong time to prepare though!

One thing I have taken from this week’s experiences is the clearer realisation that, although we will both complete our language courses here, we will then need to continue learning and revising and correcting and being corrected for a very long time after that. I sort of always knew that, but it’s been brought home more forcibly!