English pensioners in France offer immersion classes
The economic crisis has prompted retired English couples in France to offer immersion classes to French students who are eager to brush up their language skills.A rural French village might not be the first place a student would think of visiting to improve their English language skills, but 17-year-old Mathilde Berthelot is doing just that.
She has driven an hour from her hometown of Saint Brieuc in Brittany, western France, to neighbouring Taule, a picturesque village of grey granite homes dotted around a flag-flying town hall and a typical central square with a cafe and a tobacconist sporting the distinctive red cigar-shaped sign.
Berthelot is here to spend three days speaking the language of Shakespeare at the home of retired English couple John and Nicky Bolton.
"We don't do very much spoken English at school, so this visit really allows me to practice my conversation," she said.
"I can come here for just three days and I wouldn't have been able to do that if I went to a family in England," she added. "If you only have a long weekend, it's not a bad option."
Mathilde is the Bolton's third paying language student and the couple, who retired to France three years ago, say they are more than happy to welcome French people eager to improve their spoken English.
"It's been very good on both sides, because we've been able to help French people and they've been able to help us as well," said John Bolton.
In these credit-crunched times, taking on students provides a new source of revenue for English families living on tight pensions, while for the French the local language sessions are far cheaper than a full blown trip to Britain.
"And I think it can be easier for the students too because for a start they don't have the long journey to the UK," she added.
"Mind you, I think John and I probably eat more English food when the students are here than we do normally."
The English language immersion courses in western France are the brainchild of Christine Predery, who has set up a not-for-profit organisation called "Bringing People Together" to help French anglophiles get in touch with English families.
"There are around 50,000 English-speaking households in the region and I said to myself that it would be a shame not to put them in touch with French people who wanted to learn English," she told AFP.
Since setting up the organisation in April 2009, Predery says she has helped to organise around 100 exchange visits, many of which led to lasting friendships between the families involved.
"I've got quite a few examples of families who have met up after the formal exchange is over. They've gone out to eat at a restaurant together or invited each other to stay for a weekend. There can be real and lasting contacts set up after one of these visits," she said.
Predery says her organisation is not trying to compete with the traditional English exchange visit, where French students visit English families in Britain. It is offering a complementary service, she says.
"The families often say that the students have already been on an exchange visit to England and that the main problem is that they go in a group. So, yes, they have English lessons in the morning and yes, they stay with an English family at night, but the rest of the time they tend to stick together and speak French to each other, so there is no total English immersion," she said.
The language courses can also provide a welcome source of additional income for the English families taking part. Visitors staying for a full week pay EUR 450. The extra funds are particularly welcome for pensioners like the Boltons who receive the majority of their revenue from Britain and who have seen their incomes hit hard by the pound's recent exchange rate slide against the euro.
"It has made a difference because I think we have lost around a third of our pensions, so it has been a great help to us," said Nicky Bolton.
AFP / Simon Coss / Expatica