The explanation of the ‘intensive language and civilization’ course I participated in before the start of classes really should begin in June. I’d read about the ten day course on Diderot’s website and thought it seemed like a really good way to meet new people whilst improving my language skills. At the end of June I received an email from Diderot telling me that if I wanted to take part in the course I would have to complete an online test which would be sent out at some point on a designated date. The places were first come first served based on how soon you completed the online test and since Diderot stressed that it always fills up quickly I was keen to get it done ASAP.
The test arrived early on the day I’d been told it would, I logged on and did some practice questions and it was all looking promising until I started the real test. I was very confused as to why I was being tested on my English comprehension skills…! I completed it anyway and emailed to make sure that Diderot were expecting me to be a native English speaker, to which I received a reply telling me not to worry, they’d sent out the wrong test but they would send another one at some point the following day.
So as it turned out they sent it that same evening, it all worked fine, and I received an email about three weeks later to tell me that I had a place on the course- hooray!
The ten days I spent on the course certainly provided a taster of the level of (dis)organisation I’m learning to expect here. On the first morning it took almost two hours to sort about a hundred of us into four pre-determined groups. This marked the start of my longing for the efficiency of Edinburgh University/the UK generally, where a simple sheet on the door or a quick email with the necessary information would have saved a lot of time and confusion. However, I won’t complain too much as that first morning we were given plenty of juice, coffee and pastries, so at least they’ve got their priorities sorted!
Worse than the disorganisation, for me, was the building, which unfortunately I’ve got quite a few classes in. It’s called Halle aux Farines and it’s a 1950s industrial building which was used to store flour before it was turned into a university building in the early 2000s. It looks alright from the outside, but in the renovation apparently nobody considered the fact that the corridors are on the outside of the building where the only windows are, while all the classrooms are in the middle of the building with no natural light and no air circulation. I never thought the day would come when I’d be missing David Hume Tower, which is a bit of an eyesore but at least you get a brilliant view over Edinburgh! Maybe the hope is that less windows will equal less distraction?
The course itself was not as intimidating as the ‘intensive language and civilization’ title would suggest. It basically consisted of three hours of grammar in the morning, followed by a three hour civilization lesson in the afternoon. The civilization classes were a mixed bag- we watched several videos about the layout, buildings and sewers of Paris and looked at street art in the city. We also had three trips to La Comédie-Française (really interesting, one of the only state theatres in France), the Sorbonne and Hôtel de Ville.
I really enjoyed the excursions and thought it was a brilliant opportunity to visit places I probably wouldn’t have gone to otherwise. However, I felt lessons had the potential to be so much better than they were. There was very little opportunity for discussion, which is fair enough in a grammar class but the civilization lessons would have really benefited from being more interactive. I think the aspect of French language I struggle most with is spontaneous speech and I had so little opportunity to improve this in the course as we probably spoke no more than five sentences each in class. I also think that the SILC course would have been a great time to discuss the requirements of the French education system. For example, I know the structure of an essay is a lot tighter and stricter in France than it is in the UK and it would have been useful to have received some guidance on this. I feel it was more of an introduction to Paris (definitely specifically Paris and not France) than an introduction to university life in Paris/France, which for me would have been a lot more beneficial.
On a more optimistic note, I was lucky to meet some really great people on the course. There was quite a mix of degrees in the group so I’m unlikely to be in many classes with the other international students, but I’m sure I’ll keep in contact with people throughout the year. It’s certainly nice to have a couple of familiar faces in the corridors in the first week, too!