I have enrolled in a one-year French classes at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris 3). It’s one of cheapest (compared to those offered by private institutions) language courses in the city and has a very limited of places. Hopefully the 16 hours / 8 classes per week heavy-duty schedule will bring my French to the next level!
As one of the objectives of this course is to prepare foreigners for a French education in the local universities, the classes cover more than just the standard grammar, oral and pronunciation subjects – it covers also on how to write academic papers, analyse articles, present and defend orally thesis.
Lasting two semesters, of which I just finished the first one (September – December), each student has to sign up for a total of 8 classes, totalling 16 hours per week. 4 of these classes are compulsory, while the subjects of the other four are chosen at the student’s own discretion.
In the first semester, one of the compulsory classes was French history. We learned about the key events spanning 1870 to 1969 (from the 3rd Republic to the beginning of the 5th Republic). I like this class as the interesting narration from Monsieur Carré, the history teacher, beats poring over the thick history books. He condensed skilfully the essence of the l00 years of French history in 10+ weekly two-hour sessions.
In this class, we were not required to read up on any history books. Monsieur Carré would orally summarise the history, highlighting the key events. At the same time, we would write down what he told us. He would narrate in complete grammatically correct sentences (vs. oral French) and we would jot down, word for word. This method ensures that we pay attention to what is being said in class, and also practise our listening and writing skills. A history and dictation class!
The only drawback of this class is that it starts at 8am (for both the first and second semesters) which means I have to wake up at 6.15am every Monday morning, to catch the 6.56am. In the last four months, I finished my French classes on Mondays at 4pm, after which was followed by 3 hours of English teaching. By the time I got home was 9.30pm. A 14-hour work day!
It was not really a literature class as we only read one book over the three months. In fact, the title of this class is “Lire Un Roman” literally translated as “Read A Novel”. The novel selected is a French classical novel titled Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost, published in 1731. Imagine, throwing old French language and an unfamiliar 18th century France into the mix, what’s the outcome?
In this class, we analysed the different themes, the significance of each word, each expression, each object (e.g. What is the implication of the candle used in this dinner setting? What does the candle light trying to say to the readers? Are there similar scenes in other parts of the book? Why are exclamation marks used? Why does the author switch the narration from the first person to the third person?). The class brought back painful memories of gnawing on Romeo & Juliet for two years in preparation for my Cambridge O Levels.
Contemporary French – Creative writing
It’s a class combining creative writing based on the novels written by non-French natives who write in French. The two slim books chosen are Le Bleu des Abeilles by Laura Alcoba from Argentina and Mitsuba by Aki Shimazaki from Japan. Both these stories are simple to read (well, at least compared to Manon Lescaut!) and give me the hope that perhaps I can write fluently in French, as a non-native, un jour! There were several opportunities to write in this class. In each session, the teacher would give us a topic relating to one of these two books to write about.
Why I like writing
I like writing, I like being able to juggle different words and express coherent thoughts on print. What I like – writing – does not mean that I am good at it, especially in a language that I am not as familiar.
Why I like writing in French – an accomplishment
The process of writing in French – first getting my plot ready in English (unfortunately this is the language of reflection I have now, hopefully to change to French soon), then searching the right words or expressions to capture the essence of my thoughts (online translation dictionaries are my best friends), shuffling the words around in an attempt to find grammatically correct sentence structures – is time consuming, back-breaking work. The time to write a French paragraph is at least three or even four times more than that of writing an English equivalent. However, the satisfaction of seeing a seemingly coherent piece of French writing is inexpressible. Coherency is only in my eyes, before a correction pen massacres the writing.
Why I like writing in French – treasure hunting
Oh…another thing I enjoy about writing in French, when I am poring through the online translation dictionaries to find the right word or expression…this part of the process is like a visit to a fleece market – one never knows what treasure one will find among the piles of knick-knacks.
At times, while searching for a French word, I might come across another usage or meaning for the same word. Or one or more synonyms. Other times, I might accidentally bumped into a word which I have never seen before (and sound funny) which will lead me to search for its meaning, which then again might lead me to different usages or meanings of this word…and the process will continue. The result is a collection of new French words, rather than just one word, which was what I set out to seek at the onset. And I will add this collection into my Excel spread sheet. Have I mentioned about my huge Excel spread sheet of French vocabulary?
Two other classes are less interesting, but still, I manage to learn quite a lot are (a) Discourse Analysis (e.g. identification of anaphors (pronouns, lexical), theme-rheme patterns (constant, derived, linear) and types of texts (narrative, descriptive, argumentative etc) and (b) Writing methodology and analysis of documents. It never crossed my mind that one could actually break a sentence down by different ways. When I write in English, I just write, only making sure that my sentence is functional, grammatically correct. I never knew that I could vary my presentation in various sentence structure. Maybe that’s why I am not a poet or a writer! The knowledge gained from the first course are the technical aspects of linguistics, though interesting, but I don’t think I will use them frequently in real life.
The second class would be useful if I do indeed sign up for a French university degree. The objective of this class is to do a “Synthèse”, which is something like summarising 2 or 3 articles into one short text. It’s not really a summary as you are not supposed to summarise the text in the order that they are given – you are supposed to extract the essence of the different texts and fuse them. You have to start with a “phrase d’accroche” – a catchphrase and finish with a “ouverture” – a question which opens up to a new related topic! I have summarised lots of articles – both in school and at work, but never a “Synthèse”.
There is still another semester to finish. I will try to arrange my schedule such that all my French classes are packed into 3 days, leaving 2 free days to work, and thus minimising the drop in income! Studying and working at the same time is hard work. Including my daily long commute (minimum 3 hours to-and-fro Paris), I am practically working more than the standard 40 hours. However, I find that studying gives me a meaningful focus, that life is more than just working. Even though I am often whining about my exhaustion (as my other half can readily attest), I am glad that I have enrolled myself in the course. The tricky thing is that I need to find another anchor, once the course finishes in 6 months time!
I will stop now. Too much rambling, and no photos for one post. An antidote for insomnia.
Wait, I just remembered I took some photos for my oral class. For our oral presentation, my group members and I had to talk about one aspect of Belleville. It is a Parisian neighbourhood which lies in 4 arrondissements. We picked Street Art in Belleville as our presentation topic. Here are some of the art we saw during our exploration of this neighbourhood.