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This article is taken from PN Review 42, Volume 11 Number 4, March - April 1985.

a Year Spent at Cahors Michael Alexander

Twenty-two years ago I began my year as English assistant at a secondary school in southern France - the Lycée Gambetta at Cahors in the département of the Lot. I had just finished at university in England and thought, for want of anything better to do, that I'd learn some French. I was to teach something called English Conversation twelve hours a week, in return for which I had bed and board in the Lycée and enough money to live on. The true purpose of such exchanges is to improve the spoken language not of the pupils but of the assistants, who are usually university students with two years of their modern language degree behind them. I had just completed a degree in English and had not done any French for six years, but was accepted for the scheme, perhaps because I applied for the regions of the Lot, Tarn or Dordogne rather than the more popular Paris or Provence. My accent in English was also more orthodox than that of some assistants. At the Orientation Week in Paris, the question: 'What if ye cam frae Glasgow' had to be repeated before it was understood. The only piece of information I can now recall from Orientation Week was contained in the advice, from a smooth officer of the British Council, to keep out of the hands of the doctors since in France medicines were often supplied 'from a southerly direction'.

I was dropped at the Lycée by ...


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