Madame L’s French class

Laura Griffin - 08/07/13 -

I learnt French through high school and university, and my first French class is still clear in my mind. Our Year 7 French teacher was a tall, thin, Mauritian woman. She had coffee-coloured skin with faint liver spots. Her wiry, grey hair stuck out at all angles. I remember her peering over the class through her bottle-bottom glasses and blowing raspberries and puckering her lips like a fish to demonstrate pronunciation.

She smiled a lot and always encouraged us to try to speak French, even if we reverted to squirming our faces and trying English words with what we though was a French accent. Ah oui, there was a lot of ‘Franglais’. Her head (and round glasses) bopped the whole way through our oral tests, which she let us do just with her in the corridor.

We listened to French on cassettes (Nicole always wanted a hot chocolate (Nicole veut un chocolat chaud; Marie prend un thé) and they always seemed to be going au cinéma) and mimicked their erratically exaggerated intonation.

We got to put together a scrap book of sorts of all things French, kind of like My French Life, except there were more clip art pictures of the Eiffel Tower and photos cut out of French Vogue, which contained, to my early adolescent mind, a shocking number of semi-naked women.

Madame L. explained that France was about much more than La Tour Eiffel, L’Arc de Triomphe, Les Champs Élysée, Chanel, croissants et Madeline. She told us that the people there took time out to have a hot lunch with their families everyday; that discussions about art, poetry and literature were encouraged; and that debates about philosophy and politics were relished.

At 13-years-old, the idea of having a big lunch and small dinner with no snacks seemed crazy to me, but the stuff about la vie intellectuelle really struck a cord. I felt stifled by my school (I had been ‘told off’ the week before for going ahead of the class in maths, which was at the very peak of my maths abilities) and snubbed by most of the girls at school because I was Hermione-esque (but not as clever or magic).

Later, learning French gave me leverage to persuade my parents to let me go on exchange to Bordeaux.

Laura Griffin - 08/07/13 -

I had been overseas once, but had never been so far away as Ballarat (a town about an hour and a half from Melbourne) without my parents. Despite staying with a wonderful host family (the mother had learnt to say “Hello” and “Would you like a cup of tea?” with the same cassette intonation I had heard years ago), I became so much more self-assured, confident and independent. By the end of the third week, my host Mum insisted I leave the house sans dictionnaire, and my language skills improved so quickly, as did my Charades and Pictionary skills when I had no idea about a particular word.

This trip opened my eyes to the rest of the world and my assumptions about my life. I realised there are different waysto do things, like cooking meat (I will never order ‘well done’ again!) and dinner discussion (above my real family’s dining table, there is an invisible sign that says ‘no politics at dinner’). I also learnt to listen more carefully and think before I spoke (out of necessity in another language!). I learnt patience, and how to make le pain perdu or ‘lost toast’ (or French toast), with slices of stale bread, milk, eggs, a bit of sugar, a splash of rum and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

I have let my French skills slip (which is why I’m writing this in English), but I’m really looking forward to starting to use them again and sharing in this celebration of our common French thread.

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Laura Griffin

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  1. kyla Jul 25, 2011 at 9:55 PM - Reply


    I enjoyed reading about your memories of your French teacher, learning French and the blossoming of your independence, what a delightful blog.
    Thanks for sharing that piece of your life.

  2. Debra Jul 25, 2011 at 10:23 PM - Reply

    I love your french teacher! (Much more inspiring than your Maths teacher …) and I am going to have to try your French toast recipe, le pain perdu. Oh, I do so relate to improving Charades and Pictionary skills when speaking French, but I’d never thought of it that way – much more positive! A lovely article, thank you!

  3. Britt Aylen Jul 27, 2011 at 9:46 AM - Reply

    Haha! Oh, I wish that I’d had such an inspiring French teacher when I was in high school. [I was once asked to leave my year twelve French class because I was unable to voice my opinion on the political situation in the Northern Territory – why we were discussing that in French, I’ll never understand…]

  4. kyla Jul 27, 2011 at 9:56 AM - Reply

    Lol! Good question, but I wish that we were discussion things in French, anything would have done, even the political situation in Northern Territory although I am afraid my response would have been, je ne sais pas, dis-mois, s’il vous plait.

  5. Laura Griffin Jul 27, 2011 at 11:01 AM - Reply

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Kyla, je vais essayer d’écrire plus en français!

    Britt, very funny you should mention French teachers and the Northern Territory. My teacher in the latter years of high school ended up being a bit racist…but I’ll have to tell you that in person.

    Debra, Mum made French toast on the weekend, and I remembered a key point in the recipe. Cook it on a very low heat, so the soggy bread cooks all the way through, without burning the outside.

  6. Virginia Jones Aug 3, 2011 at 12:12 AM - Reply

    I”m sorry Madame Tidwell did not instill a love for all things French and passed on what we called “hick French” to us one and all in high school! I had to wait till I was in my sixties to go to Paris and fall in love. For the record, I”m a master at franglais/sign language. I amaze myself that I’m able to navigate around Paris with such limited skills. I guess my “southernness” helps a little!

    Great article. I look forward to more.

  7. mouli sharma Aug 5, 2011 at 5:41 PM - Reply

    French language has become my passion now, after the classes done from Alliance Francaise. Now I want to learn more french………….. Je voudrai parler bein francais

  8. kyla Aug 6, 2011 at 8:41 AM - Reply


    Si vous voulez, puis vous parler en bien.
    Bon Chance.


  9. Bethany Untied Aug 7, 2011 at 3:38 PM - Reply

    Great article, Laura. I can just picture Madame L ! It’s so great that you had such an inspiring teacher.

    I just wish that learning foreign languages had taught ME to think before I speak- a quality that I have never possessed, as those who have met me can easily attest ! 😛

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