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Tom Lees case study

Spending a week in Bordeaux in the South West of France was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made. Not only was the trip useful for my French, I met some people from a completely different part of the UK who have become friends who I know I'll stay in contact with for a very long time. Starting very early in the morning (around 6am!), the group of 18 of us left London Luton airport along with our group leader, Donna. The majority of us had never met before, yet we soon arrived in Bordeaux and had our first evening out together, where we all got along really well and discussed our hopes for the placement the following day.

I, personally, was really nervous, having to speak in French for the entire week, but I was excited nevertheless. Bordeaux has an extensive tram system called 'le tramway' or 'le tbc', so I travelled to my placement every day via the tram which took me around 20 minutes, crossing the river and into the suburbs (la banlieue) of the city. My placement was a children's library called 'Le Petit Chaperon Rouge' which sold a wide variety of books for all ages of children, and was run by two ladies called Dominique and Sabine, who did not speak a word of English! As daunting as it sounds to walk into a shop and just speak French, I found in the first couple of hours I got along alright with 'D'accord' or 'Oui' most of the time! As it was holiday time, the shop wasn't too busy, so I spent most of the time reading the books and talking to Dominique about everything and nothing. She was extremely friendly and understood that I was still learning French. What amazed me the most was the extent to which I was able to understand the majority of things said, and respond 'without sounding English' in the words of my supervisor. Everything is completely different to the classroom - you're not there to sit an exam paper, you're not timed and you're not penalised for not being spontaneous or completely fluent. Everybody understands, and respects that you're making the effort to learn their language.

It's not only in the work place where you get the chance to speak French. As Bordeaux is a very energetic city, we spent most of the evenings as a group in the city centre. In this way, we could discuss our day's work, have a meal together, and have fun! At the start of the week, a friend and I went to an ice cream cafe, attempted to order in French and the owner immediately responded in English. It was pretty annoying, but by the end of the week, everything had changed - I felt confident in ordering food, talking to French people in shops in French and in general, just blending in with French culture.

For anybody who is considering the Halsbury Work Experience project to any destination, I would definitely recommend it. Whether you are already a confident French speaker, or feel as if you need work on your listening or speaking skills for AS or A2, the experience is one which you will never forget, from teaching you idiomatic phrases which are useful in all of your schoolwork to roaming the streets looking for good restaurants!

What I will treasure most about the trip, however, is the knowledge of the French culture and French people. You can spend 2 years in a classroom, but I can honestly say that there is nothing that will increase your knowledge and fluency of a language more than spending a week there and doing work experience.