I never thought I would be happy with a grade C exam result – until this week, that is. I’ve been graded as C1 in spoken and written French. That’s one level short of fluent.
I had decided it was time to get some help with my French, so I signed up with the Lille branch of the Alliance Française.
I have an honours degree in French and German Studies, which covered the two languages plus French and German history, politics and culture. By the time I finished my year abroad, I spoke both languages fluently.
However, that was, ahem, some years ago.
My proficiency in German has tailed off, as I rarely get to use it anymore. I don’t want the same to happen with my French.
The problem is that I work in an office in London or at home in Lille and don’t have to speak French in either place. Plus, I live with an Englishman.
So I only get to speak French when we go out. (Trust me, my restaurant French is great.)
But that’s not enough. Hence, I enrolled on Monday with the Alliance Française, France’s leading provider of courses for people learning French as a second language.
It ranks language learners using the accepted European standards. There are six levels:
- A1 – Beginner
- A2 – Upper Beginner
- B1 – Lower intermediate
- B2 – Upper intermediate
- C1 – Advanced
- C2 – Mastery
A C1 like me can, apparently, “speak in a clear and detailed manner on a wide range of topics, give an opinion on current affairs and outline the advantages and disadvantages of different possibilities”.
My class included me, a young German woman volunteering for a year, a Latvian working in Brussels and a Brazilian student. We spent the best part of two hours discussing immigration, prompted at various points by podcasts, films and written text.
What I don’t now know about the current wave of ugly nationalism – hello Brexit! – post-war reconstruction or emigration after the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe is nobody’s business.
“I only get to speak French when we go out. (Trust me, my restaurant French is great.)”
Being back in a classroom environment feels a bit odd. I took a couple of wine courses a few years ago but they were held in the rather swish Hotel du Vin in Brighton.
The Alliance Française offices in Lille have a decidedly more municipal tang. What’s more, the classes come with homework – and not the kind that necessarily involves drinking wine.
Oh well. No pain, no gain.