Number one for English language teachers

France: The show must go on

Louanne Piccolo’s primary students take to the stage to memorably mark their end of term.

I am South African but have lived in France for the last fifteen years in a small town in the French Alps. Children learn Italian at school where I live, not English, as we are only thirteen kilometres away from Italy, and so I began a small language school called The Language Café, which had just twenty people in the beginning and now has approximately seventy-five people every year. I am lucky enough to teach adults from beginner level through to advanced conversation classes, children from three years of age to high school and to do business English courses for the surrounding ski resorts and their personnel, for tourist offices and for ski rental shops. The children are divided up into three- to five-, six- to seven- and eight- to ten-year-olds and put on an English show at the end of every year, which is always great fun for them and a wonderful source of entertainment for their parents. They get to show off what they have learnt while enjoying themselves. This year was no different from the other years as you can read in my diary entry for the day:

21st June

We have a crisis on our hands. It is the end-of-year English show for our young learners and everything has gone according to plan, until now. I am peeping through the stage curtains at the increasingly restless audience, while Virginie, one of our volunteers, is cajoling four-year-old Paloma into taking her seat so that the play can start. Paloma. Blonde ringlets and big green eyes; she is now brimming over with tears. Quite the little drama queen, our Paloma. I can’t say her mother didn’t warn me. She is so good at what she does that I sometimes want to stand up and applaud her during one of her tantrums, but not today. There is an entire hall of eager parents and impatient children waiting to see the three- to five-year-old learners strut their stuff.

Virginie is successful and Paloma flounces over to her seat and clambers into it. 

“Are you ready?” I stage-whisper.

“Steady, go!” she answers boldly, eyebrows raised at my audacity. I have been put smartly back in my place, by a four-year-old, for doubting her.

Paloma, our bus driver is ready. London’s calling! I open the curtains to reveal a swaying, red cardboard double-decker bus, with the words ‘The Fun Bus’ painted on the side in white and black. Peering out from inside the bus are ten, tiny, smiling faces. Weeks of rehearsals are wasted as every one of the owners of those ten, tiny, smiling faces forgets their lines and begins to wave shyly as they catch sight of their family in the audience. This show is very much on the road.

As the play ends and the bus lurches unsteadily off into the wings, the audience whistles and claps. We are sometimes lucky and get all the way through our plays without one of the timid, sometimes bold, almost always thumb-sucking, three- to five-year-old group falling off the stage, but most of the time we don’t. The audience count on it. Indeed, they have come to expect it. Cameras flash and the audience claps energetically as all the young learners file proudly back into the limelight for their curtain call. The magicians and their assistants, hairdressers, waiters, birthday boys, ballerinas, librarians, children made up to look more like children and a Christmas tree belt out a charming rendition of the Addams Family end-of-year song while snapping their fingers. I hum happily along. It’s been a great show.

Chorus
Duh-duh-duh-duh [click-click]
Duh-duh-duh-duh [click-click]
Duh-duh-duh-duh
Duh-duh-duh-duh
Duh-duh-duh-duh [click-click]


We learned our ABCs
and counting 1, 2, 3s.
And now we know all these.
The Language Café.

Chorus

It seems we’ve just begun
and now we’re almost done.
It’s been so much fun!
The Language Café.


Chorus

Now we must say so long,
with our little song.
But we’ll be back ‘fore long.
The Language Café.

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