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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Mariella Brown: Language Course in France

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    30 Sep

    After taking French lessons at the university’s language centre for the past two years, this summer I decided to put Gateway’s funding opportunity to good use and live in Lyon, France for two weeks.

    I chose a two week course at Alliance Française, which gave me three hours of lessons each day plus an additional cultural course. Coincidentally July’s cultural course was on French cuisine – and with Lyon as France’s gastronomical capital – this turned out to be fascinating and very useful. Having taken a test to determine my proficiency, I first entered my class surrounded by people who could speak French very well – while my strengths lay in reading and writing. However with the lessons taught entirely in French, I was quickly forced to adapt and a few days later I could contribute to group discussions more easily. Incredibly, the amount of vocabulary I learned on my first day was probably more than I’d done in a year of school-based French! Luckily our teacher was very encouraging too, providing engaging lessons on working life and finding a job in France. This proved very useful, especially as I’m considering returning to France once I’ve finished my degree.

    The second class of the day, gastronomy, focused on spoken French and vocabulary in practical situations. We enjoyed discussing local Lyonnaise restaurants and even cheese and wine tasting! Not knowing much in the way of French culture, this helped me integrate and find friends with similar interests to explore the town in our free afternoons.

    Primarily what surprised me the most about my trip was how much I adored Lyon as a city. Having picked Lyon for the language school’s good reviews, I was surprised by how much there was to do! As an English student taking a paper in Visual Culture next year, I loved looking at the vast selection of art Lyon had to offer. From the Musée des Beaux-Arts’ fantastic marble sculptures to the fascinating Lumière Institute, home to the first cinematograph and international cinema festival; Lyon’s cultural collections left me little time to explore its shopping districts (one of Europe’s largest shopping mall seemed somewhat unimportant in comparison).

    When I was not visiting museums, I explored the city conversing in French with my new friends. Some had already spent months in Lyon and were able to guide me through Vieux Lyon’s cathedral, basilica and local parks. In our last lesson (see picture enclosed), our teacher took us on a trip to the district Croix-Rousse. As we had been studying street art in our class, we had a chance to view and discuss the amazing array of artworks including pavement mosaics and enormous murals.  

    The language school also arranged day trips, such as a Saturday trip to Annecy. Taking a boat trip on Lake Annecy, enjoying local food and visiting the fantastic chateau was one of the highlights of my stay. One of the main issues I had encountered when learning French in England was being unable to hold a conversation confidently. Yet, being around people of a similar age in a relaxed environment helped considerably. By the end of my trip, I had greatly improved my listening skills and also could speak to groups of people for evenings at a time.

    With thanks to Gateway’s funding, I was able to immerse myself in French culture, massively benefitting my language skills and confidence. I’m now reading my favourite novel Madame Bovary in French and am excited to go into my final year to take on the Visual Culture papers, with some additional Lyonnaise-inspired knowledge!