Almost every day, we hear of expats wishing to learn more French. Likewise, we know of many French people intending to improve their English but time restraints and fears of leaving our linguistic comfort zone often hold us back from actually doing something about it. However, group of aspiring polyglots have taken action.
Around 40 people in Boussac, in the Creuse, meet every Wednesday evening at the local Maison des Associations to attend the ‘café franglais’ sessions, where they practise speaking their foreign language with native speakers. Small, mixed-ability groups of five to six people discuss various topics in their chosen language and give each other helpful corrections.
The classes are free of charge and usually last from 6.30pm to around 8pm, with most attendees staying for the entire duration. Unlike proper language classes, they are informal gatherings over coffee, tea and nibbles – hence the name café franglais: everyone speaks freely, just as they would during a chat with friends over coffee.
The language-exchange project was born more than a year ago, thanks to expat and co-founder Alan Collier-Parker and Laure Chaveron, a lawyer and member of the Creuse Bar. They felt that it was often difficult for language learners to remain motivated during seemingly endless grammar classes, so they sought to create a fun and interactive alternative.
Since September 2016, the project has been up and running as part of the culture share initiative from the AIPB, Amitiés Internationales du Pays de Boussac, an association created by husband-and-wife Wendy and Alan Collier-Parker to encourage cultural exchange between the people of Boussac and the English-speaking residents in the area.
The number of attendees has grown steadily, and boasts of a wide range of English speakers, including Britons, South Africans, Belgians and Dutch, as well as nearly equal numbers of French speakers from the area. In addition to the language classes, the group have gone on to organise themed seasonal events such as a Christmas party.
Mrs Collier-Parker points out that with two of the town’s three factories trading internationally, a growing English-speaking clientele is encouraging French businessmen and women of the area to become interested in the classes. She values this “wide collection of people from the region” visiting the classes and believes that the diversity enhances the welcoming spirit of the initiative.
The Collier-Parkers would urge those feeling less confident in the language abilities to “just try speaking, as locals will always encourage you as long as you try”. Although Boussac is a very rural French commune with a close-knit society, they feel Anglophones have made good efforts to integrate into the local community, and expats are “very much welcomed”, and even the “mayor is pleased about the project.”
Anyone wishing to join is heartily invited to turn up to the classes. (https://aipbboussac.org)
Similar initiatives exist across France. The Franglish group host language-exchange events in various big cities in Paris, Nice, Lyon, Lille, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Grenoble,among other places, every week from 7-9pm in bars and pubs. Registration is required in advance and limited places are available. Meetings take a special format, having participants talk for 14 minutes (seven minutes in French, seven minutes in English) before they switch to another table to meet new people for their next conversation session.
Tourist offices in your region will probably be able to help find more events like this; and if there is no option near you, how about starting a group of your own? www.franglish.eu