My California-based grandsons – Sidharth, 5, and Nikhil, 3 – were amused beyond bounds when they heard I attend weekend classes in French. The idea of their thatha going to school thrilled them to bits. In their scheme of things grown-ups went to office , not to school. I promised to mail them photographs. When I mentioned this at our class, my teacher Mrs Jayashree Jagannatha, and classmates readily agreed to pose for pictures. I have since mailed them to San Ramon CA, USA.
At 72, I am the eldest in a class of nearly 20. Mr Vincent Vasanth Kumar, course co-ordinator at Alliance Francaise , Mysore, says they have had elderly students, but no one my age. When my wife and I dropped in on him for a look-see Mr Vasant Kumar showed us around the class-room and library, and also filled us in on what they do. Alliance francaise, apart from teaching the language, helped those planning to pursue higher studies in France ; they even helped the deserving get scholarship.
The foundation course, of 80 hrs spread over 14 weekends , is for the uninitiated – helps them ‘discover’ French, as my teacher Mrs Jagannatha, put it. She believes in doing much of the talking in French, leaving us to make sense of it from her tone and gestures. Idea is to give us a sense of the sound and flavor of the language. It is a tough act that requires considerable patience – communicating with students in a language they had yet to learn. As a student, I am constrained to make sense by watching, rather than hearing her. After the first six hours of intense learning last weekend , I started having second thoughts about my capability to grasp things. I was not good on the uptake ; others in the class picked up lessons with noticeable ease. Their sharp reflexes and a blotting-paper absorption of what was being taught left me way behind. I found myself to be the lone slow-coach in the class.
At the start of the course the teacher had asked each of us why we had signed up. I told her I wished to find out for myself, if , at my age, I am capable of learning anything at all . I have heard it said far too often that it is never late in life to learn something. I wanted to know if this applied in my case. But after first weekend of French, my thoughts were, if I was in this to test my learning capability, I would have been better off signing up for a crash course in basket-weaving or carpentry.
As things stand, if I give up French, even before I learn how to say Au revoir, I wouldn’t be giving ‘learning’ much of a chance, and the very purpose for which I had signed up would be defeated. And then , I am accountable to my grandsons, after all that build-up over my going to school. I wouldn’t be setting a good example, would I, if I were to call it quits after the first class. Putting it in perspective, I decided, I have no option but to press on with school, and give French my best shot.
I explored the Internet, and found this online course offered by BBC. It is a 12 week course, and it’s free. I signed up, to supplement my learning at the weekend classes. I stumbled on a couple of other self-learning sites – Ielanguage and a site created by Jacques Leon . What’s more I have started watching TV5 Monde, even though I don’t understand a word of what they speak. Googling has triggered in me a new-found interest in French. If this mode of language learning works, I could try it out on some other language.
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