Who doesn’t love the French language? It is the language of great literature. The language of love. Since a child I have wanted to speak French. I studied it at school. I have taken on-line courses, purchased CDs and french grammar books. I have been entranced with its smooth, mellifluous tones. It is said that immersion is the best way to learn any foreign language. To fully learn a language you must live in it. And what could be better than immersing yourself in this melodious language on a tropical island? Think white sand beaches, aquamarine seas and one of the world’s most beautiful lagoons. Palm trees and frangipani. Pétanque and windsurfing. Boulangeries and patisseries. Café noir and croissants. Charcuteries and chocolateries. And French wine. Lots and lots of French wine. And all this in less than three hours from Sydney.
Learning French in New Caledonia
New Caledonia is a French-owned island in the South Pacific and it is to here we came to enrol in a French language immersion course for beginners at CREIPAC – Centre de Recontres et d’Echanges Internationaux du Pacifique (Centre for Meeting and International Exchange in the Pacific).
CREIPAC is a public language centre charged with promoting the French language and culture in the Pacific. They offer all levels of french language courses and cultural experiences. Located out at Nouville – a 15 minute bus-ride from the centre of Nouméa, the island capital – the campus is housed on the historical site of the French penal colony established in the mid 1800s.
Basing their model on that of the British penal colony in Australia, France deported over 5000 convicts, both criminal and political to New Caledonia. The island received both male and female convicts and most were required to remain on the island once their sentences were served. In this way France colonised this island paradise much to the ire of the local Kanak population. There were a number of violent uprisings and the penitentiary ceased in 1897. However, despite often fierce local opposition, the island remains steadfastly French. All born here are French citizens and most, if not all, speak French. So what could be better than learning French in New Caledonia.
The school itself overlooks a wide, deep lagoon and is surrounded by green lawns, palm trees, bougainvillaea and frangipani. On our first day we are divided into classes and taken to the green-walled class room that will house our class for the next week. Our teacher is Yuni and there are only six of us in the group so we are assured of one-on-one attention. However in a class this small there is no place to hide. And as with all immersion courses, there is minimal English. So from the moment we meet French is spoken resulting in a lot of quizzical looks going around the room, not the least of which come from me.
Our first exercise is to introduce ourselves and we must all get up and speak to the class in French. I volunteer first. Not out of any sense of bravado, but quite the opposite – I want to get it over with. But with all things like this, the anticipation is worse than the reality and the whole exercise goes smoothly, if not little haltingly. The others in the class take their turn – Norma, who is here celebrating her 80th birthday; Angela, who is from Vietnam but now lives in the North of the main island of New Caledonia; Paulette, who is also from Australia; Erik, the Danish man who works for the Red Cross in Thailand; and my sister Analissa , who loves all things French as much as I do.
We attend CREIPAC for a week. Every morning at 715am we catch the Line 10 or 11 bus from our hotel at Anse Vata, through the city, out past the port on to Nouville.
“Bonjour Monsieur” we say to the the driver as we board the bus, “Deux tickets pour Nouville, s’il vous plait.”
‘Voila madame, deux cent dix francs” he responds.
“Merci monsieur.” We hand over our 210 francs and take our seats in the bus, feeling just that little bit smug at having had an exchange in French, albeit brief.
We spend 4 hours a day at CREIPAC immersed in French and each day I find my broken French improving to the point where I actually get the gist of everything Yuni is saying, despite not understanding every single word. After a week I can communicate in the shops and restaurants around Nouméa and read food labels and menus. Still, I know I need to work on it as almost everyone I speak to in French responds to me in English. C’est la vie.
Learning french in New Caledonia – at the end everyone gets a prize:
CREIPAC run all levels of French language immersion courses running for one or two weeks. The classes are 4 hours each morning leaving plenty of time to explore New Caledonia and practice what you have learnt. They can also provide private lessons and conversation classes for those more advanced students. Check their website for current prices.
Address: 100 avenue James Cook, 98800, Nouméa, Nouvelle-Calédonie.
Tel : (687) 25 41 24
Getting There: The best and cheapest way is by bus. Karuia Bus Lines operate from Anse Vata through the city out to Nouville, lines 10 and 11. The stop you want is called UNC (University of New Caledonia). CREIPAC is directly opposite the university.
For the full immersion experience CREIPAC can organise a homestay where you can live with a local family for around A$60 per night including meals. Otherwise there are many hotels in Nouméa close to the bus lines. We stayed at the Chateau Royal Hotel Beach Resort and Spa in Anse Vata. Located on the beach at Anse Vata, close to restaurants, cafes and shops, it is the ideal location for a tropical island holiday.
My utmost gratitude to everyone at CREIPAC for organising a very memorable immersion experience. We learnt – and laughed – a lot. And to our teacher, the ever charming Yuni – who never stopped smiling despite our best attempts at massacring her beautiful language – merci beaucoup!