Year 7 have recently returned from our inaugural trip to Château de la Baudonnière, near Avranches in Normandy. The 7 day trip featured 5 fun- and action-packed days of outdoor adventurous activities: climbing, orienteering, assault course, night-time treasure hunt; as well as creative workshops: bread-making; dark-room photo creation and development and sports and games ranging from the familiar to the more exotic: fencing, archery, aeroball (a basketball / trampolining crossover!) and hunt the flag, to name just a few. All of the above delivered entirely in French, ensuring a week of intensive immersion in the foreign language.
Meal times, too, were conducted in French, with pupils asking others in French to pass food and drinks at the table and even heading off to the kitchen to ask for more in French as well! Life at the chateau is full-on, with activities all day, including on into the evening, run by a large team of enthusiastic ‘animateurs’ – who never speak English to the pupils.
As well as enjoying the wide variety of activities on our programme at the chateau, we had a day trip to the local market at Villedieu-les-Poêles, where pupils interacted with the locals in French, in order to fill in their questionnaires. We also went to a café, where pupils ordered their own drinks in French. After un pique-nique, we went on to the extraordinary Mont Saint Michel, which is in Normandy…or is it in Brittany? Both regions lay claim to this characterful walled town which gets surrounded by the sea at high tide – so it depends on who you ask!
As well as having an amazing time, from the team-building, self-discovery and outdoor educational perspectives, pupils benefit enormously from a linguistic point of view. This prolonged and intensive input of French pays dividends in lessons and assessments over the following weeks, months and even years. Real-life experience of a foreign language in its own cultural setting is an essential part of the language-learning mix, which cannot be replicated in the classroom, no matter how hard teachers work to bring their subject to life.
As well as being highly memorable, such visits abroad at a young age can lay the foundations for a lifelong journey of enjoying learning foreign languages. Early experience of the thrill of understanding and making oneself understood in a foreign language abroad, as our Y7 pupils had on this trip, helps keep them motivated learning the grammar and amassing the vocabulary and idioms needed to become confident and, in time, fluent speakers.