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What Katie did in France

Language Panic – what a pickle! Or should I say jam? (or: how talking about food solves everything…..)

Katie, age 17, has just returned from a language exchange where she spent 2 weeks living with a family in Monmouth’s Twin Town of Carbonne, near Toulouse. This is her story.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Toulouse. The sun is shining and the temperature is 27ᵒc. I hope you enjoy your stay.”

Panic set in! I’m alone in France for the first time. Would I fit in with my host family? Would I like the food? Would I locate my own suitcase in this confusing airport?

The heat hit me – followed immediately by the absence of my own language and culture. The differences between life in Monmouth and Toulouse were striking – this vibrant, multicultural and busy city was overwhelming, as I tried to find my feet.

My first conversation over a traditional and local ‘chocolatine’  – or pain au chocolat to you and me – went well. My host family, Lùna and her mother Marianne, went out of their way to welcome me and my fears flowed away quicker than the water in the River Garonne.

It turned out that my interest in French cuisine was pivotal – did you know that the longer mealtimes in France contain at least 50% conversation on the topic of food with another 20% of the conversation based on wine?

Learning a new language makes you ask questions about your own. What do you do when you would need to translate something when there is no exact explanation? This adds real excitement. For example, try to explain the difference between jam (on toast) and jam (in traffic)…..

The differences in culture hit me as my confidence in using French grew  – there’s no better way to learn than immersing yourself in conversation with family and friends. I was really pleased to hear a family friend introduce me – “This is Katie. She can speak French very well. Do not speak to her in English, she understands everything!” – A lovely feeling! especially given how nervous I was to begin with. I had a lovely time in France with many new friends. It was an eye-opening experience into the world of languages: and I’m now fixed on studying French further!

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