dimecres, d’agost 10, 2005

Rainbow Tour 2005 Travel Log - Day 5 - Monday 7.11.05

Monday, and it was off to school. Even though I teach a lot of classes, I rarely get to take one, so I was very excited about my Niveau 0/1 stage de Breton. I was also nervous, since the communication from the school had been been sporadic and stilted in any language. As of my crossing the threshold to the Skol, I have no idea if the course were actually running, nor if my place in it had been held.

To my great relief, the course was indeed running, and I did have a place. I was the first student (I can't help but be early on the first day, old habits die hard!), and I spoke with the secretary Nadine who gladly took my 200€, offered me some coffee and introduced me to the Assitant Director, Marwenn, who besides Nadine, was the only staff member who seemed like she might be over 40. Another lesson about Brittany: it's very relaxed, perhaps a little too so for anal retentive Pennsylvania Germans.

In the fullness of time most of the other students arrived, 8 in total between the two sections, niveau 0/1 and niveau 2/3; in total there were meant to be 12 students, but four had canclled at the last minute. This apparently was not unusual for this time of year as the big vacation period was beginning in France, and some people must have thought they would like to be on a beach or climbing a mountain in stead of learning Breton while baking away in little school rooms. It was too bad though since really the language needs every learner it can get. Today it is suspected that around 340,000 people still speak Breton, but almost 300,000 of them are over the age of 50. I say suspected because the French government takes no census of minority language speakers within the Republic. Ofis ar Brezhoneg, a semi-official body is now in charge of promoting and working to maintain the language, and it was onwe of their surveys that helped establish t6he 340,000 number. The signs are not quite as grim as they may at first appear, but the threat to the future of Bretgagne bretonnante is very real.

As the morning got underway, we also met the teachers: Fañch, early 30's, tall, long black hair and beard, definitely seems to like heavy metal music, and he and his friends are in a Breton language rock band - he has a quirky and yet charming sense of humor; Tifenn, mid 20's tall and somewhat swarthy the strictest of the bunch in class; Anne, petite with a nice smile, she seemed to be the most effective of the three in the classroom, but all were excellent instructors. What struck me was how young they all were, and not just because I'm getting older. In Wales, the typical adult-ed language teacher is a retired person volunteering to teach the language or working for very little money. These people were all well-trained professionals whose main job it was to teach Breton, and in them, and people like them the future of the language resides. Seeing such a young face on the caretakers of the language was heartening.

The students, like the professors, all tended to be fairly young, one, a business teacher, was perhaps late 30's. They ranged in age little, and likewise professions. Five of the eight, myself included, were in education. One worked for a cultural concern in Brittany, one was a computer programmer and two were graduate students (Sam and Raja, but more on them later). There were four each in each of the sections by the time things settled down, but in the beginng, on Sam and I were in the beginners' group. The 8th student would not arrive till the following day, and then on that day too, Raja would also join us, self-demoting from the more advanced group.

The routine each day was that we would begin around 9AM, have a 15 minute break mid morning, stop at 12:150 for and hour and a half lunch. We would reconvene at 1:45 and continue till 5:30 with an additional 15 minute break mid-way. At 5:00 everyday, the groups would convenen together for a collective group activity with the more advanced students helping the beginners.

On the first day, Sam, Raja and I went to a pizza place behind the SNCF for lunch. During the morning introductions I learned that Raja, who lives near Philly, and Sam, who lives in Boston but comes orginally from Australia, both speak Welsh. We would use our Welsh to help us learn Breton throughout the week, and this was especially important for Sam whose French was very week. They are both very sweet people. Sam is a doctoral student at Harvard in Celtic Studies and Raja is about to begin a program of Linguistics. They are also both very comical, as people back home would say in that they act and react in very much the same way as each other, both very much like the same things, and have a propensity toward being easily confused. They were in Europe for multiple rounds of language. After Rennes they were going to Kemper for another course, then on to Llanbedr Pont Steffan for a course in Welsh as well, although really their Welsh was very good and I don't think they need much more work in the classroom.

The day's course went well, and in the evening I went into the old city, to the rue St. Georges to a cybercafé to read my email, then bought a new notebook to revise my notes from class. Finally stopped at the train station and bought a sandwich and some chips and beer and gobbled them up in the hotel room before copying my notes from the day into the nicer notebook.