Tuesday, 11 January 2011

French without tears

A change is as good as a rest, they say. So in that spirit, I haven't bothered with a great deal of serious cookery this evening.

Although to be honest, that's less to do with any need for a change or a rest, and more a sense that the deadline for my second Open University marked assessment is looming, with a cut-off time of noon tomorrow.


This is for my French course, which I started in the autumn in the belief that it would be easy enough to organise my time, since The Other Half is doing the same course.

The aim is simple enough: to be able to speak better French when we're in the country – and also to be able to read more French generally. Frankly, it's a great excuse to read comic books and graphic novels – which the French consider an art form and are really quite good at.

Another upside will be being able to read French cookery books. I already have a couple on the shelves (on Catalan cuisine) and I can just about work my way slowly through recipes, but it will be so much better if I can reach a point of being able to do it with less effort and reaching for a dictionary every few sentences.

Anyway, the assessment has now gone, after we had to fumble our way around downloading and then using software to compress the files, since this assessment included a first spoken test.


The OU has a recording system on its website, but you still have to send it from your own computer.

Speaking French is by far and away my biggest weakness – I panic if it's much more than restaurant French (which for some reason or other I'm not bad at).

When I realised that this assessment's spoken test won't be marked (but simply used to give feedback), that lifted some apprehension, but the trauma of school language lessons lives on, while the situation isn't helped because it's the least easy thing to practice by yourself and neither The Other Half nor I are quite at conversation level yet.

Well, The Other Half is a lot, lot closer to it, but I'm certainly not.

Fortunately, the subject for the test helped. You had to record an answerphone message to a fictional hotel, giving your details, saying what sort of a room you wanted, for how long, from when and for how many people, give your breakfast requirements and ask a question about some aspect of hotel facilities. The finished message had to be between 30 seconds and a minute.

I wrote out what I was going to say – and realised while I was doing it that, while I haven't actually made a hotel booking in French, I have gone into hotels in the country and explained who I am and that I have a reservation online etc. So I felt as though I was halfway there.

Mind, it still took at least eight efforts to record the thing – not least to time it so that it wasn't 28 seconds but just within the required timeframe. But in the end, no major traumas.

After all that, the most I felt like doing was getting a bit eggy and rustling up a quick omelette in my nice copper omelette pan that was bought in Paris, since you struggle to find such a thing over here.

Talking of French copper pans, I was teased somewhat at work earlier today when a delivery arrived: two miniature ones for sauce, melting butter etc. They're only 7cm diameter each – so in other words, both will fit on one hob at the same time, which will be perfect for some things.

And yes, they look gorgeous, so they'll also make lovely props for my food photography.

But no photography tonight: for now, it's off for a spot of slouched relaxation. That's entirely enough brain work for one day!

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