France On My Own

This goat took a fancy to me!

A Three Week Journey In Learning French


I look out the tall windows of my small apartment to gaze again at the petite village of Sancerre, about two hours south of Paris in the southern Loire. I have been here for just over a week now, ensconced at the top of a lovely old chateau in the heart of town. My goal in coming to Coeur de France, an immersion language school here, is to begin learning to speak and understand French. Somehow I never studied this language at school and for just the last year or so, have been taking some occasional lessons and classes beginning at the very lowest level. It’s been difficult and so I made this supreme commitment in hopes of a breakthrough. For the past week, it has been hours of French each day, grammar and vocabulary, pronunciation (tres importante in France) and listening for comprehension. And I am loving every minute. The learning is so challenging it takes absolutely all of my attention and energy. Amazingly enough, I am beginning to get it — at least a little. No English spoken here at all, and even though the four students here are either English or American, we are requested not even to speak English when we are alone together. So we eat, shop, stroll, and everything else, all in French. One can’t help but learn!

Living in Sancerre has been an unexpected pleasure. I am not strictly a tourist as I go to the Boulangerie (bread shop), the Fromagerie (cheese shop),  L’Epicerie (grocery shop), the Patisserie (pastry shop) or the Charcuterie (deli) almost every day. I see the same people daily and we say “Bonjour” and make other pleasantries about the weather, or how we are feeling, or I am ordering lunch or having tea, and I am speaking. Everyone in the village understands that students of the language school are trying to learn to speak, and they are very patient with us — mostly. The women at La Poste have been particularly patient. I see my server from yesterday’s café in the Boulangerie, or the pharmacist’s wife at the grocer’s and we greet other as friends.  It is a great experience.

The school itself is marvelous — dedicated, inspiring teachers determined to help us learn. I made so much progress my first week that I couldn’t believe it. My greatest difficulty has been being able to understand what I am hearing. The first two days I  couldn’t understand much. Then, on the third day I was listening to a long conversation between my fellow student and our instructor discussing some obscure point of grammar and suddenly realized I understood everything they said. It was such a revelation that I burst into tears!

The chateau itself is over 400 years old, constructed about 1590. Classrooms and a day room are on the first floor, and student apartments are above.  I love my cozy chamber — it has a small kitchen, comfy bed, my own bathroom and all sorts of other conveniences, like free Wifi, TV, DVD player, radio and CD player, plenty of storage and a beautiful armoire for my limited wardrobe.

I love Sancerre too. It is a town of less than 2,000 people, dedicated to wine and goat cheese. The soil on the Sancerre hill itself is unusual in that it is made of clay, chalk and flint. It is the flint that gives the famed Sancerre wine its distinctive taste. And the goat cheese is named Chevre de Chavignol in this region. We visited a winery, tasting right out in the vine fields and also visited a ‘chevrerie’, a goat farm to learn how the cheese is made. And such goat cheese! Beyond delicious. The goats themselves were also adorable. These excursions add even more to this experience.

There is so much more to say but I will save it for next time. I hope to write soon about my days in Paris on my own, which I also loved. Have to stop now because I have to study French!






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