St. Genies de Comolas, France – French Immersion Course, Part II


MilleFeuille from the outside, including the wine cave.

By the start of the third day of courses, I definitely detect a bit of improvement in my skill. I wouldn’t have said as much the night before, though. I think a lot of it gelled into place while I was sleeping. As previously mentioned, I had a lot of difficulty sleeping Monday night, and while the same was true on Tuesday night, it was wasn’t as severe. I found myself trying to think of nothing, yet inevitably, I’d think of something in French and from there, see if I could express the same sentiment differently.

Sleep Fail.

Could it be that I became addicted to la grammaire Française?  In an effort to insure I actually slept through the night on Wednesday, I made my way to the village pharmacy and acquired a sleep aid.

The rest of Wednesday, aka: day three, was focused on more verb conjugations and pronouns, equipping me to speak about the past and the future a bit more effectively. Before dinner, one of the instructors gave a presentation about a Francophone organization. I took the sleep remedy, but sadly, I don’t think it helped at all. I wasn’t any more sleepy an hour after taking it than I was before.

La vie de Dawson est trés dramatique.

Day four, Thursday, was full of more grammar; verb conjugations, prepositions, and passive structures. For the second day in a row, the first period was spent presenting the prior afternoon’s writing exercise.  I spent most of the day feeling much as I had on day two… as though I hadn’t learned anything. I

NomNom or GlugGlug? Both!

think this is likely normal, as it takes more than a week to develop a command of a language; although, I’ve learned a lot.  After classes, I opted for some quiet time and a bit of what I hoped would be good comprehension practice in the form of French television. What I got were two episodes of Dawson’s Creek (Les Francaises l’appellent Dawson). I’m not sure it helped.

In the evening, we were joined by a local singer for a dinner of beef stew and cous cous, followed by cheeses (mais oui!) and a brilliant chocolate mousse, for which Marie kindly shared the recipe. Our visitor, Lulu, taught us about the barbary organ, which runs off of cartons. After dinner, I headed out to the yard with another student and practiced speaking.

At Graduation...

As this is the first time I’ve ever really not been able to express myself to anyone, it is an interesting experience. On vacation, I’m not as bothered, as I’m not getting to know the people I meet in passing. It’s such a small group, and as I like everyone here, it’s frustrating to be so short on words… especially when I’m generally a shy person who hides it by trying to make people laugh.

Some of my fellow students and I outside the chateau

The final day of study, Friday, was much the same. Presentations, Grammar work, etc. The daily evalulation discussion was a bit different, as this one was targeted more towards one’s next steps and where one needs to improve next.

We had a small graduation of sorts, and those of us leaving were given a bottle of wine in recognition of our achievement.

In the evening, we went to a local vineyard (of Alain and Nicole Prunet) for a bit of dégustation du vin, after which we all went for dinner together in Chateauneuf de Pape. During dinner, we all caved in a bit, and used our other languages… English, German, Lithuanian while still using our French, the only language we all shared. While it was cheating, I am thankful for the opportunity to better understand my fellow students. These are people whom I’ve come to get to know a bit over the course ofthe last week, as inevitably, in a language class, we use our words to express optinions and to communicate with one another. I’ve increasingly felt a bit sad that I haven’t been able to express myself to them as well as I would like, but I’ve so enjoyed the opportunity to try. I wish we could all have another week together.

At the vineyard

So, what’s the verdict?

This has been one of the best things I have ever done. I overcame my fear of grammar, I met some lovely people, and in every respect, I’m a better person for it. I realize that may sound a bit excessive, but it is easy to be  insensitive when people don’t share your language. This was a good reminder of how limiting it can be to have enough words, but not necessarily the perfect words, when you’ve become so accustomed to always having them.

I definitely want to come back for another week!

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St. Genies de Comolas, France – French Immersion Course, Part I


The very first thing I decided to do with my gardening leave was to take an immersion language class.

I wisely chose a program surrounded by vineyards,

It is something I’ve always wanted to do, and as it can be called a CV builder, I’m hoping to include it into a tax write-off.

After much web research, I selected a program at Millefeuille in St Genies de Comolas. A number of things about their programs appealed to me, including the very small class size (2-4 people) and the option to live at the school, a former wine estate, rather than doing a home stay. It isn’t that I dislike the idea of a home stay, but I read a few too many discouraging stories to want to do it without a bit more planning time.

Getting to Avignon from London was pretty straight forward; Eurostar to Paris, TGV to Avignon, and then a taxi ride to the school.  Getting there was likely the easiest part.

Up until being collected by the taxi, I had been feeling pretty good about all this. I don’t  think I’ve spoken a word of French in ten years, but I managed to buy a book and a sandwich, find my train, etc.

Then I arrived at school and felt a bit daunted!

Upon arrival, I checked in, and had a bit of time before dinner at eight, when I met the other six students for the week.  We were all bit a quiet that first evening, which was a bit of a relief for me. Left to my own insecurities, this had every opportunity to be my most silent week, ever; however, for every ounce of insecurity, I’ve one of stubbornness.  I did come here to learn, after all!

After an excellent night’s sleep, the program began…

The schedule is demanding, as promised:

The view from my bedroom window.

  • Breakfast: 0830-0900 (cereal, fruit, yogurt, bread, cheese, happiness)
  • Lesson I: 0900-1030
  • Coffee/Tea: 1030-1100 (always with cookies and fruit)
  • Lesson II: 1100-1230
  • Lunch and Coffee/Tea: 1245-1400 (salad, quiche, and of course, cheese for afterwards!)
  • Lesson III: 1400-1500
  • Lesson IV: 1500-1600
  • Coffee/ Tea: 1600-1630
  • Lesson V: 1630-1730 (writing- based exercises, thus far)
  • Break: 1730-1930
  • Dinner and Post-Dinner Socializing: 1930->

The other students are of varied backgrounds, which makes for interesting dinner conversations. Among them are people who work for government ministries (Lithuania and Guinea Bissau), an Engineering PhD Candidate, a couple (he has a corporate job, she teaches piano) from Germany, and a Canadian woman who works in Afghanistan with Francophone Canadian military personnel.  The students range from beginner to advanced, and there are two others at my competency level.

My room was very comfortable, and yes, I did my homework at the desk.

The first day of study, Monday,  the first lesson period consisted of a placement exam, after which the rest of the day’s sessions focused on grammar, specifically verb tenses, one my two big weaknesses. By the end of the day, my brain felt full, as did my stomach, following several simple but excellent meals prepared by Marie, one of the two chefs. I used my breaks for homework and practice exercises, and I ended the day around ten o’clock.

The second day, Tuesday,  was a bit harder, as I had a lot of difficulty sleeping, possibly because my brain was full and I was excited. Despite my room and bed being very comfortable, I woke up many times and struggled to fall asleep; thus, i felt a bit like the living dead all day. The morning was packed with revision and practice around verb tenses and usage, reinforcing Monday’s material, and towards the end, pronoun usage (my other big weakness) was introduced. After a  lunch of tomato salad and a savory tart with tuna and my failed attempt at a nap, there were further lessons on pronouns, and a session to practice writing.

A view of the chateau from the side yard.

During the evening break, I joined two other students on a walk around the village of Saint Genies des Comolas. The village is tiny and quiet. It is, from what I can gather, home to one small market, a pharmacy, a pizzeria (closed on Friday nights, supposedly), a hair salon, and a chocolate shop. It seems like a very nice place to live, albeit very, very calm.

After the break, we enjoyed an excellent dinner of cous- cous with a beef stew of sorts containing beef vegetables, and chickpeas, cheese (of course), sorbet,  and the company of a local woman who I believe is an economics professor. I’m not completely certain because I was late to dinner due to my relying on the clock on this laptop, which is set to UK time. The school periodically has local people join the students for dinner for conversational practice and for educational presentations. I’ve been advised that there will be on one wines next week, and I am  quite disappointed that I will miss it.

Thus far, I’m very much enjoying the experience.  I think I’d like to come back for another week, later in the fall. We’ll see how I feel later in the week, after even more grammar lessons!