A complete gîte


Having avoided being sent to elocution lessons when I was ten in 1967, my first taste of foreign languages, aside from my Nan speaking in rhyming Cockney slang to confuse her neighbours, was a year later at secondary school where they tried to teach us French.

Day trips to Dunkirk and Boulogne didn’t help; although did introduce us to cigarette lighters whose flames made oil rigs in the North Sea look tame – and flick knives.

But this was hardly immersion.  The only immersion likely was us trying to dump our Divinity teacher overboard just pulling out of Dunkirk harbour.

During our French lessons we were instructed solely to conjugate verbs. Because that happens in everyday foreign languages – Not!!  Whenever, trying to buy a fresh baguette on holiday in a gîte in a town which formerly housed U-Boats, you will not be saying to the Boulangerie, “I bake, you bake, he, she or it bakes, you bake (several of you baker types), we bake, they bake” you are English and, therefore, you speak slower and slightly louder, as if the baker is slightly mutton: “Have. You. Got. Any. Bread?”

Latin was just as bad. And useless, unless you wanted to study etymology or become a Personal Trainer.  Most Latin lessons involved us reading books about wars involving towns/cities/nations being taken by storm.  We learned the Latin verb expugnare – to take by storm.  I cannot remember, since my last Latin lesson in 1972, ever using the words “to take by storm” – although if I’d have supported Millwall that might have been different.

But, because English is the universal language, all we need to do is go to an evening class and learn how to say, in several languages: “Two beers, please”, “Where is the nearest chemist?” and “I think my clutch has gone!”

Auf wiedersehen, pet.

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