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So last month I spent some time in France at a wonderful language school called Coeur de France, as you may remember. I wrote my first bi-lingual blog post, a quick introduction to the school, a couple of weeks ago. And to be honest, I should have written this follow up post earlier. But, well, I’m exhausted. I’ve started working full time again and trying to juggle what I actually want to do with my life versus what makes me money is basically the equivalent of having two full time jobs. My mood is erratic and I’m constantly tired. However, I can’t really complain, and well, let’s get to the point.
This course was INCREDIBLE. There is no better place to learn French in France than Coeur de France. Of all the things I’ve done this year this trip with Coeur de france is definitely in the top 3!
So, why did I love it so much? Long story. Or kind of short if you want it to be. It could be summarised as; Wine, cheese, learning, bread, cheese, atmosphere, wine, cheese, bread, location, wine, bread, tours and did I mention cheese? But I reckon you’d probably prefer the details.
I opted for the group sessions. I think this is the best way to learn as you can bounce ideas off your fellow students and there’s a great sense of camaraderie as you’re all in the same boat. You can all feel a little silly together! Though you quickly get over any sense of self conciousness you thought you’d have. There were only 4 people in my class including myself. Private lessons are also available if you feel you’d prefer that. Both are great ways to learn French in France.
I was in the Intermediate 1 class, which was perfect to remind me of everything (mainly grammar) I had forgotten over the years. In Coeur de France classes last 4 hours and alternate between morning and afternoon sessions. It means you have the morning or the afternoon free to explore and try other local activities which I’ll tell you all about later. 4 hours is the perfect duration as you don’t get bored and you manage to concentrate for the entire class, though maybe that’s mostly due to the excellent teachers?
Classes were often broken up by an impromptu trip to the local coffee shop or boulangerie (bakery) where myself and my fellow classmates were encouraged to interact with the locals to practise our conversational French. Not as scary as it sounds! You can see Ted & Rebecca having a chat with the lady in the local cheese shop below!
There were free pronunciation classes each morning as well. These were optional, though I recommend attending them to get the most out of your time at Coeur de France. There was, of course, some homework involved too! I know, I was a bit horrified myself (none of my school friends are going to believe that statement), but I soon realised it didn’t take very long and it did help me to ingrain what I had learnt that day. When trying to learn French in France it helps to put in the effort!
We also did short role play scenarios in class which was AMAZING. We were given props (think plastic food from those pretend kitchens you used to play with as a child) and a theme and then we kind of had to improv’ in French. There was a lot of laughter but also a lot of learning.
The last thing I will say about the classes in Coeur de France is that all the teachers were incredibly patient and friendly. I never once felt embarrassed or self conscious about my lack of French skills. It was a wonderful learning environment and I cannot begin to recommend it enough.
I know the aim of Coeur de France is to help their students learn French in France. However, they also want you to immerse yourself in the French culture! So, there are several options of trips to go on or activities to undertake. I tried to do as many as possible, but they do cost extra and well, I may not be on a STRICT budget, but I am on a BIT of a budget.
The first activity I tried with Coeur de France was a wine tasting (30euro). This was a couple of hours spent at the vineyards of a local wine making family. In Sancerre all of the vineyards are run by local families that have been wine making for generations. We learnt about the wine-making process and had a look at where they bottle the wine. Then we had a look in the old wine cellar where they had bottles from as far back as 1946. I even managed to find my birth year! Then it was time to learn how to taste.
This was the part I was really interested in. I mean, I’ve cluelessly stared at my fair share of waiters when they’ve poured a tiny drop into my wine glass and looked at me expectantly. When I have attempted to taste it I’ve literally just swallowed it and said “That’s grand”. Even if I kind of think wine generally tastes the same, or, at least, I USED to think that. So I’m sure you can understand how eager I was to FINALLY banish my ignorance and, well, drink some wine. Marianne & Gerard are both wine connoisseurs. They produce their own wine and are official wine tasters for Sancerre wine.
It was Gerard who taught me (everyone else on the tour already knew) how to taste wine properly. This involves some swirling, to release the fragrance (I think). Then some sniffing (to inhale the fragrance). Then you take a sip into your mouth, put your teeth together and suck in some air through your teeth. This will bring out the flavour quite strongly. I, in fact, almost choked on the intensity of the flavour of a few wines. It also makes you look like an absolute creep. But it’s lots of fun. Then you take another sip and hold it in your mouth for a bit and see how that feels/tastes. Then you swallow, or spit……. that’s a personal choice. All I’m saying is, I didn’t want to waste any wine 😛
This trip was mainly conducted in English to help us understand all the different processes and also it was at the start of the week when we were all still quite rusty. I know the aim is to learn French in France , but at this early stage we needed the commentary in English!
I also went on a trip to the local chèvrerie (goat cheese farm) in Chavignol where they make world famous goat’s cheese. I’m a MASSIVE fan of cheese in case you hadn’t already realised, so this was a must for me. Plus I quite like goats, those crazy creatures. The only thing I didn’t REALLY like about this was the fact that the goats never saw the outdoors. They were all kept in big pens in a barn…… which I thought was kind of sad. Maybe I’m being too much of a vegetarian right now?!
ANYWAYS, the cheese was great. It’s called Crottin de Chavignol. It gets the little glass bottom on oil lamps that they used to use back in the day. One day, the cheese maker had nothing to store the cheese in except one of these small glass containers (Crottin). The name has stuck ever since. They no longer use the Crottin but the cheese is still made in a small round shape.
We had a tasting at the end to try the different types, which varied from mild to very old and strong. It was interesting to learn all about the process of how it was made. This day trip was 50euro and also included another wine tasting in a different vineyard at the end of the day. Wine AND cheese, what more could you want?! Then it was time to head back to Coeur de France!
This day trip was entirely in French and to our surprise, we all understood. At that stage we were starting to think that we might have been successful in our bid to learn French in France (thanks to all that homework).
So this is basically the big event of the week. Everyone pays 10 euro towards the ingredients and som wine. It’s well worth the money and is a great opportunity to practise your French. On the chosen evening you all gather together in someone’s apartment, ours was in chez Rebecca, and get your aprons on. YEP, time to cook, IN FRENCH. I’ll let you in on a secret, my group had 8 bottles of wine that night. There were 6 of us….. and two of us weren’t drinking. So that’s two bottles of wine each. We went to bed at 3am. Class the next morning was HILARIOUS.
There are several other activities available. for instance Gerard is a licensed pilot and can take students on an aerial tour of the châteaus of the Loire valley. There is also the local market which you can take a look around and converse with the stall owners. Cycling tours can be arranged as well as horse riding.
There is so much more to say about the lovely town of Sancerre and the beautiful school of Coeur de France, but this post is already 1400 words long and counting! SO, I’m thinking I might do a photo post later on next week.
Two weeks staying at Coeur de France including accommodation and group lessons starts from 2375 euro. Personally I stayed for one week and saw a great improvement in by French so I reckon 2 weeks would be incredible.
This school the perfect place to learn French in France. It is suitable for all ages and often has returning pupils. If you’re a bit of a francophile then this is the place for you.