Have you ever wanted to speak French?

Et maintenant, le journalist qui s’appelle Gilly Smith parlez avec Fabrice Camus qui runs “Le Club Pour Le Parlez de French”. Bon.

I’ve wanted to speak French since I was a 17 -year-old au pair in Paris, happy to chat with the kids, but freezing with anyone over the age of 10. I want the easy, shoulder shrugging kind of French off pat, not the ‘il fait beau aujourd’hui’ kind of French that’s never going anywhere. I want the effortless chatter over a glass or three that would transform our adventures en France, the friend-making, options-opening kind of French that’s almost impossible to learn in the country itself.  While everyone in France either sneers at your pathetic grasp of language (Paris) or wants to practice their English themselves, it’s just not going to happen on holiday. 

So I put a shout out on Facebook. ‘I think there’s a guy called Fabrice who does conversation classes’, said West Hill Hall Lou who knows the answer to everything. And she’s right. ‘Yup, Fabrice is your man’ says someone else. ‘He teaches my daughter GCSE’,  someone else pops up. ‘I do his Book Club’ says another.  It seems that the whole of Brighton is speaking French with Fabrice. 

I looked him up. Fabrice Camus, freelance French teacher, clearly an orchestra leader for a choir of English voices wanting to learn, advance or polish up their Francais! Camus? Wait. Surely he’s related by Albert, existentialist, poet, philosopher, footballer and my teen hero when I was a French A’ level student. ‘No relation, malheureusement’, messaged Fabrice. ‘Il ya beaucoup de personnes qui portent le nom de famille ‘Camus’ en France!’ 

£50, he told me, would include a weekly class at my local pub, The Eddy as well as French Book Club on Friday mornings and French Cinema on Saturdays or Sundays, both monthly. It turns out that there’s a Saturday morning breakfast too every week at  Cup of Joe in Kemptown. I was in.

Four months later, I’m chatting if not fluent French, fluently to an ever-changing cast of French Clubbers, also chatting happily, whatever their level, at Cup of Joe. Ceri is an TV animation producer who lives in Brighton and works in Paris one week a month. Hyanna is a young doctor who arrived in Brighton from Brazil and seems to like a challenge. Tony is a retired French teacher at Brighton College, Sian, a historian, Shirley an opera singer agent… The conversation is flowing.

I ask Fabrice how he thinks the magic happens. 

‘Number one is confidence’ he tells me. ‘If people have got the confidence, they can do it.’   And they can. Margaret and Richard moved to Brighton last year and have used the opportunity to polish up their French, aand to meet new friends. ‘I lived in France for 15 years,’ Margaret tells me. ‘My spoken French was good, and reading French is good. My written French is still terrible!  It was very difficult to speak French when I lived there; when you’re shopping it’s ok, and some people are always patient. In Paris not so much. But here, I can relax and practice it easily. It’s very informal.’

Husband, Richard works in Lyon but spent Lockdown in the UK and quickly found that the quality of his French was deteriorating. He went back to basics with Fabrice, concentrating on grammar through exercises in class and through homework. ‘The sessions with Fabrice are very efficient,’ he tells me as he tucks into his croissant.

Lesley is retired and moved to Brighton last year. ‘I’ve met so many people with common interests.  I love the breakfast most, but also we have the weekly class over a cup of coffee. We do have conversations but we also we go through the homework we’ve had during the week so that’s very useful.’   It’s more than 50 years since Jill was a student in France and is quietly loving the hubbub of spoken French. ‘I lived in Paris when I was young,’ she tells me, dreamily.

I notice the almost fluent French booming from the end of the table, albeit in a rather cute New Zealand accent. ‘When I came overseas,’ James tells me, ‘I realised that a lot of Europeans spoke their own language as well as English pretty well. So, I tried to use some of my high school French, and I struggled even to order a coffee in a cafe. And that really annoyed me. I got frustrated with the fact that I could only really speak one language. I had expected everyone to speak my language, to accommodate me in their country!’ He moved to Brighton, spotted a poster in a pub window for Fabrice’s informal French classes, and decided to give it a go. ‘I kind of just fell in love with it. It’s just a nice challenge. I enjoy learning another language and discovering a whole new world through the language and the culture.’  

l To join Fabrice’s Rendezvous French Club at a variety of pubs and cafes around Brighton, call 07704 188055.

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