International Office - Aberystwyth University

A (half)week of children and language barriers

Today is Thursday and it’s already the end of my working week. Nope, I haven’t quit or been fired, apparently that’s just how it works so I’m now in the not unpleasant situation of having 6 days off! The law in France states that an adult can work a maximum of 35 hours per week in one job and seeing as one days work for me is 10 hours, this roughly translates as 3 days a week for 3 weeks the 4 days for the last week of the month. It goes a long way to making the kids seem bearable, although most of them are actually incredibly entertaining.

This week my days were obviously Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday so I got to see the children in the first 3 days of their summer holidays. Hyper-active is putting it mildly for some of them but on the whole they are very well behaved and, unlike British children, you can leave the room for a minute and when you return everything is largely how you left it. On any given day there are 4 animateurs/animatrices (that’s camp workers to all you bloody British folks!) for 40-50 children. Surprisingly this is more than enough and sometimes you can even grab a nice sit down with a book (though this does also come with a small child to read said book aloud).

The activities this week have been varied but have included spray painting, tipi building, scooter riding and archery. The archery especially was a bit of a nightmare with 6-11 year old boys running around with ‘arrows’ which were essentially sticks whittled to a sharp point. However, there have been no serious injuries as of yet (touch wood) and a stern word seems to stop the worst of it. Language-wise I’d say my command forms are coming along nicely, ‘arrête!’(stop!) is probably the word I use the most during the 10 hours with ‘assieds-toi’/’asseyez-vous’ (sit down!) coming in a close second.

There is obviously still a language barrier between both me and the kids and me and my co-workers. It’s not so serious between my co-workers as they are able to adjust their speech for me or, if I look particularly tired or confused, switch to English. They are all absolutely lovely and always make effort to include me in discussions, although it must be frustrating to have to explain everything-almost like having one of the children around constantly.

The children are a little different though and, as with most things, it is the girls who are more sensitive to my struggle. For the most part I think they find it interesting and endearing when I make mistakes and they seem to have a good tolerance for me as they often reformulate their questions or complaints and take pains to explain every part that I don’t understand. The boys however (well not all of them but a select few) are sometimes plain rude. They make fun of my ‘funny accent’, which (and this sounds so wet) can be a bit demoralising at times and they deliberately use slang words to insult me so I won’t know what they’re saying, though it’s easy enough to get the gist. What they do forget is that I have to power to prevent them from doing as the please if they go too far and that ultimately, I’m in charge. It’s only the end of my first week though and I’m still hopeful that my French will improve and I’ll be able to understand the insults fully and give them a right bollocking for being so disrespectful.

Not all the children are monsters though and this week I have had numerous pictures drawn for me and even a paper hat given to me. The more patient children have taught me how to play some of the various board and card games available at the centres, including one called Dobble which is simple and great fun but I am admittedly a bit crap at it compared to the kids.

The next time I work will be Wednesday which leaves me with plenty of time to celebrate the 14th of July (French Independence Day) in style and that will most likely be the subject of the next post (provided something good happens!). Until then à bientôt et bisous.

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