The only problem with my visit to Tarn-et-Garonne was that I had to leave at the end of the course! It would have been such a pleasure to go on like that for a whole month, with Pierre making me delicious things to eat and talking to me about all things French.
Before I arrived I knew that I wanted to work on oral expression but I was worried that an immersion course would be too difficult for me: I learnt some French at school, but that was a long time ago and I have never really spoken the language. However, from the moment that Pierre picked me up at the station, I knew that things would go well. It is not just that he is an exceptional teacher – although that’s certainly true. It’s also that he is a kind and generous person who shared so much more than his language with me.
The classes were well-structured but flexible, with Pierre focusing on expressions and techniques that would help me understand the French that real people speak (as opposed to the French you find in grammar books). And when we did talk about grammar, I found that Pierre has a knack for helping you understand why languages work in different ways from each other. (I should add that his English is excellent, so if I didn’t understand something in French there was no problem in switching to English for an explanation.) Most of all, it was clear that I was getting a form of tuition that was tailored exactly to my needs, and I could tell from the way that he talks about his job that this is something that he does for all of his students, whether they are very advanced or total beginners. (He is also extremely patient, and he was able to correct my many mistakes in a friendly and unjudgmental way.)
After our formal classes were over for the day, we would have lunch together before going on an outing. I definitely wanted an immersion in a rural location but I wasn’t prepared for the sheer beauty and calm of this particular corner of France. Whether you are driving to a picturesque village or taking a walk along one of the many paths adjacent to the house, you will find yourself marvelling at the wildflowers, the birdsong, and the stunning views. The area is extraordinarily rich in picture-perfect villages, dramatic scenery, and hill-top castles. What’s more, you will learn about everything you see because Pierre loves to share his passion for history and the natural world. My favourite day was the one I spent with Pierre and his lovely partner and stepdaughter at the market in St Antonin-Noble-Val: we even had a barbecue afterward with food from the market stalls. I also have fond memories of the star-filled night sky (no light pollution!), of our visits to the local beauty-spots and museums, and of talking with Pierre about French films and music.
I could say a lot more but, looking back over my time in Tarn-et-Garonne, the thing that stands out is how much fun it was. Pierre’s delicious sense of humour made classes pass easily and without any feeling of strain. He loves games and wordplay, and this makes itself felt in the way that he teaches. I often found that a particular word or phrase was sticking in my mind because Pierre had made a pun about it. And in a way, that sums up his method. You are learning all the time, but it’s a million miles from the dry way in which languages are usually taught at school.
Now that I’m back home I have a notebook full of tips and a renewed enthusiasm for pushing on with my learning. Most of all – and this is completely down to Pierre – I feel more confident in my ability to go on improving, and I have an increased appreciation of the richness and beauty of the French language.