Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bernard's English

Bernard has lived all his life in the same house. And his father before him, and his grandfather. He has hardly left the départment, except to visit the relatives of his wife in the Mayenne, or his son in the Eure, and once he went with his daughter and her family to the seaside near Bordeaux. He has never been to Paris, let alone abroad. He doesn’t speak any other language than French; he doesn’t even know the word for Oui in English.

Two years ago he got British neighbours permanently living below him in the valley. They didn’t have any French, although they intended to learn. Bernard has helped them find their way about: where to buy the right machinery, what the local rules and customs are. Most communication was done with gestures, yet they hit it off fabulously. The British couple looked after his garden and his chickens when he was in the hospital, and they brought him plates of their own dinner when he was still poorly. In return he helped them build their fences, and he drops in regularly for a coffee or a glass of cider.

And now a little miracle is happening. Bernard has heard so much English from newly found friends – who revert too often to English in despair – that he is beginning to pick out the words that are of French origin. He is recognising them in spite of their funny pronunciation, and at times he knows what they are saying.

Who would have thought this possible of a man who is almost three score and ten?

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