My daughter Penny’s French teacher is French.
She speaks English with an accent that is (eez) pleasing on the ear.
Penny and her friends (and her French teacher) are not long back from a school exchange in Versailles. They stayed en famille and a week of speaking French improved Penny’s accent to the extent that she now sounds not unlike her teacher. Formidable!
Not for tout le thé en Chine would I want the dubious privilege of wrangling dozens of self-consciously Cray Cray fourteen year-olds on these trips. Anyone would need a six week summer holiday after that.
Not that they are bad kids. I’ve met quite a few of Penny’s friends. They are lovely. High spirited, confident, and on the loud side of outgoing. Occasionally cheeky, but in that endearing, funny-and-they-know-it way. And not a hint of malice.
But I would not want to shepherd large numbers of them round a foreign city.
On group outings to Paris each teacher was responsible for a rolling maul of around ten hyperactive adolescents. Crowd control was apparently achieved by means of a pre-agreed code-phrase. No matter how boisterous, no matter how hyped up on chocolat chaud, no matter how high en vie they were, the group would immediately restore order the moment the phrase was called. In theory at least.
Penny’s teacher made the mistake of allowing her group to choose its own phrase.
A deliberate mistake of course.
Canny and shrewd. Literally as well as metaphorically streetwise.
She knew that the kids would choose a phrase designed to embarrass her. But she knew that by giving them ownership they would feel more inclined to respond as desired to their own self-imposed stimulus. A minor joke at her own expense, a joke that might even make her seem like one of the lads, would be a small price to pay for safety in an emergency.
Penny’s group chose “Lads on tour”.
“Nous choisissons ‘Lads on tour’ madame.”
So each time that the savvy Gallic professeur with the admirable sense of humour had to herder les chats, she had to shout:
Lads (silent s).
On (pronounced ‘en’, silent n).
Tour (lips pursed as if saying ‘confiture’).
I imagine her tone was not dissimilar to a Bow Street runner shouting “Stop thief!”.
However it sounded, Penny tells me that it worked.
Clever teacher, giving a lesson in communication planning.
She had thought about her objectives. Her purpose was not to be obeyed. It was was not to impose her authority. Her purpose was to ensure that the kids would respond immediately. And she had an ingenious strategy that demonstrated an understanding of her audience, of teenage psychology, and of the subtle relationship between stimulus and response.