Learning to Speak French - Cours de Vacances - UNIL

Andrew Virginia Amaru Rob Minako Leo Tomoya Fei Josephine

This time last year Jodie and I were touring our ‘Speak Up’ show at a school somewhere in South-west Queensland. At night I was studying like a crazy person to finish an on-line Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages course so that I could possibly teach English while we were living in Switzerland. Right at this moment I wish that I had spent those four months I spent studying English to study French. But then again, had I done that, I may not have found the need to undertake the University of Lausanne course and to have experienced the steep learning curve (think being dropped in the middle of the Atlantic without a compass and being asked to swim to Nova Scotia) I presently find myself in.
Our teacher Josephine is an excellent teacher and a very interesting person. She has a unique style of teaching French and has shown us how to build the language from the sound up. Our classes comprise a combination of sound exhalations, language exploration, explanations, physical exercise, chanting, grammatical mapping, group work, mime and for me avoiding eye contact in an attempt to not be put on the spot. But Josephine is much too smart for that. Even when you answer an affirmative to a question you can never escape that easily.
Now the rest of the students they are another thing. Young, intelligent, savvy, world traveled but you have always got to have an experienced, wise-arse Australian guy to balance the group. Right? The word I have most difficulty in expressing orally is ‘Australien’. No, it is not spelt wrong, that is the French masculine way to write Australian. But in French you need to actually move your mouth (not mumble between closed lips) and express the sound combinations so that the understanding is made clear. Pauline Hanson has a lot to answer for in the education of our redneck population with her ‘OneStraya’ party platform. 
Now back to the class. I have never worked with a more interesting, diverse and supportive group of individuals. From all corners of the globe we have been brought together at UNIL for as many different reasons as the number of countries we have originated from. Andrew I am grateful for. Firstly he has an Australian accent and he knows what rugby league is and who won the NRL premiership in 2010. Then there is my good friend Ruth, flying the flag for Britain and rescuing me every time I second guess an instruction from our teacher. From Japan we have Tomoya and Minako who are not afraid to help me with my struggles. Fei has made her way here via Emirates Airlines and is representing the fastest growth nation in the universe, China and Leo hails from the Philippines. Among other things Leo managed to climb to the top of Mount Everest in 2006. He may not admit to it, but it was probably much easier for him to do this than it is to say ‘elles ont’ in correct French. I am not sure about Amaru. Her homeland is either Venezuela or Spain. But either way she adds colour to the classroom and can speak Spanish much faster  than ‘Speedy Gonzalez’. South America is amply represented by Rita (Brazil), Virginia (Chile) and Cely (Panama), individually and collectively they bring much needed warmth to a Swiss winter. Beside the commonality of not being able to speak French, we mostly all love warm weather, chocolate, coffee and any other available form of food.
Yesterday afternoon as a reward ( it was either a reward or Josephine’s need for a sanity break) our class went for lunch at an Italien (French spelling) restaurant in Lausanne. After two weeks of intensive French we were all able to say pizza in French, ‘PIZZA!!!!’, or at worst point to the number of the pizza we wanted to order. It was a fun lunch and gave us the opportunity to share more of the adventures so far that had brought us all together at this time and place.
Lunch was followed by a bus ride to the Collection de l’Art Brut not far from the centre of Lausanne. At this art gallery we were able to wander through an art collection unlike any many of us had previously seen. Nothing like the Louvre, but an impressive collective of unique, fascinating, intriguing, offensive and intricate individual creations, combined in such a way that for me they exuded a sincere combination of honesty, inspiration and peace.  I have inserted information here about the Musee Brut from www.switzerlandisyours.com website because it was much simpler than rehashing the same information in my own words.

"A fifteen-minute walk northwest of Bel-Air (or bus #2 from St-François or Bel-Air to Beaulieu) brings you to one of the most original art galleries in the country, the Collection de l’Art Brut, 11 Avenue des Bergières (Tues–Sun 11am–1pm & 2–6pm; Fr.6; SMP). This quite unique collection is devoted to what’s been called “outsider art”, the creative output of ordinary people with no artistic training at all – often loners, psychotics or the criminally insane – who for some reason suddenly began making their own art, on many occasions in middle or old age. What results is art entirely free from any conception of formal artistic rules or conventions, which challenges both how we tend to view such “outsiders” in our own communities, and our expectations of what art should be about. Without really doing or saying anything, the gallery and its collection forces you to be open minded; even though short biographies of the artists alongside each piece tell some heart-rendingly sad or disturbing stories. The gallery displays art by Henry Darger, a hospital porter in Chicago, who died alone, an old man unknown by his neighbours; it was only after his death that his 19,000-page novel, illustrated with dozens of detailed watercolours up to three metres long, came to light. Scottie Wilson, an illiterate Glaswegian junk dealer, began at the age of 40 to produce whimsical and incredibly intricate Escheresque drawings; while a London art gallery was selling his drawings for hundreds of pounds, Wilson was found outside in the street hawking others to passers-by for a pound or two. There’s art on show from a factory worker whose talent was only discovered because he pinned his drawings up in his workshop, from a medium imprisoned in the 1930s for her interest in spirituality, from a postman who believed his hand was being directed by an external force, and so on.
As well as its permanent collection, founded by the late Jean Dubuffet, the gallery has regular temporary exhibitions of art brut from artists around the world. Whatever is showing, it’s worth going some distance out of your way to see."
The afternoon out was finished off by a pleasant walk and talk back to the centre of Lausanne. Although most of the afternoon’s conversation was conducted in English and machine-gun Spanish, we did attempt to parle Francais. But sometimes you just need communicate quickly and in a way that those around you can understand what you are saying and this was one of those times.
What have I learnt in the last two weeks? A lot of words French, if only I could remember how to say them all. But there are two ways I can benchmark how this course has helped me personally. The first was on Wednesday. On the bus home from UNIL, I was so engrossed reading the free French local paper with my increased vocabulary, that I missed my get-off bus stop by two stops and had to walk fifteen minutes back to our apartment. And yesterday I was able to ask one of the people working in our local grocery shop ‘Where I could find the Tofu?’ , and she could actually understand me.
On top of my academic growth, the experience has given me a new collection of interesting people to add to my world-wide network. As well, our teacher has shown me that the Swiss can be funny and expressive and very accepting of people from other lands. 
Hope you all have a ‘super week end’ (that is also a Swiss saying). Enchante!!

(P.S. Double click on photos to enlarge)

(L to R) Minako Tomoya Leo Amaru Virginia Josephine Rob Cely
Andrew Fei Ruth


  1. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.
    Australien de l'Immigration


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