French conversation

The important bit!

The French Conversation Group meets monthly on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 10 15 am.  We normally meet ‘Chez nous‘ in Minehead, with precautions.   Please remember to check the Calendar in case of any late changes to schedule.

Our group is led by Di Martin, and she may be contacted at 01643 703902, or by email at  Please note that this group has limited membership. If you are interested in adding your name to a waiting list, click here.

About the Group

As the name suggests this is a conversation group although sometimes homework (optional) may be set.  The standard of conversation would be classed as Intermediate. 

Currently there are no vacancies within the group.  However, if anyone is interested in setting up an additional group, either for beginners or similar to this one, then Di would be able to advise on text books and also there are the U3A HQ subject advisers available at:

2022 – From the Convenor

May. This month we turned our minds to Art – more specifically a piece of art we’d like to own; leading to our discovery of the French verb “to covet”. Without prior discussion or collusion we were amazed to find just how similar our tastes were. Our choices included Chardin, Monet, Milais, Dufy, Gilmor, Kay Nielsen and Van Gogh. Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” was included – but only for quick re-sale to use the money for “good works” ! A laudable but unlikely prospect. Next month we will look at French/Music – in whatever form we choose. 

March.  Covid and family commitments meant our group was much depleted – but those of us there worked hard. We listened to, then drew, a description of a salon of a Belle Époque châteaux – an interesting and unusual scene. The decorated furniture, the plaster-work ceiling, rugs, ornaments and curtains produced some interesting vocabulary and discussions on grammar and style e.g. the best way to say “matching colours”. As usual we went down several by-ways – including discovering that “Frère Jacques” has five verses and the fifth one is quite racy – who knew!

In February we translated a newspaper article for homework. We then brought our offerings to class in order to work together on one definitive translation, or choice of translations. This, as always, was a useful exercise; the choice of vocabulary, nuances between the different choices and different grammatical ways to express ideas made for  interesting and thought-provoking discussions. Next month three people will describe different scenes, the rest of us will then attempt to draw what we hear.


November – This month we welcomed Sue Lloyd to our meeting. Sue is an authority on the life and works of Edmond Rostand. She had prepared a comprehensive talk, which she kindly allowed us to interrupt to ask questions on content, grammar and vocabulary. We all ended up knowing a great deal more than we had before on the artistic life in Paris in the late 19th century, the life of his family and friends and, above all, his large body of work. Probably the best known of these are “Cyrano de Bergerac” ,  Chantecler” and “L’Aiglon” – written for Sarah Bernhardt. In January we will listen to and then translate a  Jaques Brel  song. There are some terrible translations on the internet – I am hoping we can do better! 

October: At our last meeting we each discussed a book that had been important to us. These ranged from a Victorian classic, to a book about a Greek classic, to a child’s French Primer form the early 20th century, to a modern medical dilemma. We each wrote about 12 sentences, and it is always amazing just how many vocabulary and grammar questions arise from these short paragraphs. Next month we will welcome a visitor, to talk about the life and works of Edmond Rostand.

September : This month we enjoyed reading another of M. Sempe-Goscinny’s tales of “Le Petit Nicolas”. (Thank you to Lesley for the photocopying.) Once again these “simple” stories brought up several discussion points on both grammar and vocabulary – some of which reflect the way the French language has changed since our long-ago school days. 

In July we got to grips with the translation of an article by Matthew Parris, “The Power of Failure”. We each brought our own efforts, then worked together to produce our definitive text. When the title alone took us five minutes we despaired of ever finishing; but with much blood, sweat and laughter we eventually emerged triumphant – having navigated such advance topics as gerunds and subjunctives along the way. August’s meeting will be much less taxing as we will read and translate a story from Le  Petit Nicolas collection. 

In June we got distracted before we even began, exploring the nuances of colourations – who knew that there was such a wonderful word as zebre? As we are inundated by numbers nowadays we spent the next fifteen minutes listening to and then writing down large numbers. Such elementary questions as to where and when to add an “s”  took us all a bit by surprise. Next we did some exercises on adjectives, proving what we already knew, that many brains working together can achieve more than we thought possible. Since we have missed so many meetings we have decided not to take a Summer break.”

May – finally a re-start!

How nice it was to get together again this month. In one way it seemed as if we had had no break – but our faltering brains told another story. Our topic was – inevitably – our feelings about the lockdowns – or les confinements – as we learned to call them. We all agreed it had certainly not been all bad – but too much cooking and limited social contacts were common themes. Next month we will put Covid behind us for a while and enjoy the  innocent pleasures of Le Petit Nicolas.


December. A contribution to this year’s Advent Calendar: Noël en France

November.   Six of us, appropriately distanced, met in my house.  Our topic, ‘My Ideal Holiday’, took us far away from today’s problems and constraints.  We floated down English canals enjoying the silence and wildlife; we travelled by train to the super coast and cities of the North East; we enjoyed daily walks from a house with a sea view in Cornwall; we revelled in the distances and tranquillity of the Scottish Highlands; and we escaped to the majesty of Iceland on a cruise ship.  As usual, we pursued words and off-shoots of words with great enthusiasm and vigour.  We even, by some devious means, got as far as the French word for suspenders – which prompted the cry from the only man in the group: “This conversation is getting too girly!”  One sentiment we all shared was that getting together and having a good laugh was a marvellous tonic in these difficult times.  Di Martin

October.  We had an enforced gap between February and September.  There was no enthusiasm for meetings in Zoom format so we have decided to meet as usual every month in my sitting-room.  There is enough space for us to be ‘socially distanced’ and we are all careful with touching things, etc.  We will continue with this plan until some higher authority tells us to amend/re-think/stop. 

When we met we realised just how nice it was to be together again, and to be able to stretch our minds while, at the same time, having fun.  Our next topic will be ‘My Ideal Holiday’ – that should enable us to leave thoughts of COVID behind for at least a little while. 

March.  ‘Grandparents’ proved such a fascinating topic that we re-visited it this month.  Everyone had an interesting story.  We heard about a commercial designer linked to Pears’ soap advertising; a German refugee from the Franco-Prussian War; a very ordinary life of tremendous hardship lived with love and dignity; a courier for the Resistance in Paris in World War Two; a grandfather whose illness impoverished his whole family and meant that he had to live in the hospital at the workhouse; a grandfather declared dead in the war but later found in a prisoner-of-war camp; and a footballing grandfather whose 1920s goal-scoring record has only recently been beaten.  Next month, to widen our botanical vocabulary, we will be talking about our favourite flowers.


November’s topic was ‘Grandparents’ – and what a rich vein this proved to be.  The stories were so interesting that we didn’t finish, so will continue next time.  Even the researchers were surprised by some of the information they unearthed, such as the professional footballer bought for £200 in the 1920s.  This grandpa even has his own Wikipedia page!  One grandma died by choking on a piece of apple tart, while another painted her neighbour’s front door (without asking) and also scattered the contents of a large feather mattress far and wide over her neighbourhood.  We had grandparents who were university graduates (rare in those days) and others who provided an unsuspected link with later endeavours.  So… here’s to the next time and further interesting histoires.

The previous month, in addition to the usual bonhomie and hilarity, we learned to differentiate between a baby’s crawl, a drunken crawl and crawl as in swimming.  We also learned to overcome a hangover and how to be drunk with success.  In a restaurant we can now order both suet puddings and dumplings and, as if all this were not enough, we learned how to kill a lobster humanely.

It always amazes Di to see just how varied our ‘new vocabulary’ list is, even after we’ve discussed the most mundane of topics.  For example, how did ‘What I did during the summer holidays’ throw up words for a trifle (the dessert) as opposed to a trifle (a small thing), soggy pastry (as opposed to soggy bread, which is a different word), praiseworthy and goose-bumps?  Our holiday experiences included culinary disasters in a Suffolk hotel, coastal walking, crab fishing at Porlock Weir – and dear Jenny’s funeral.

In June we found that it’s surprising just how much conversation a simple vocabulary exercise can generate: from glue sniffing, via the culinary and bathing habits of other nations, to the invention of paper knickers.  We also learned the names of different types of beans and many uses of the word ‘file’.  A scoring element was added to the second exercise, and this revealed a hitherto unsuspected competitive streak in several of our members!  Luckily we had a month before our annual meal together in July – time for the normal decorum of the group to re-establish itself.

The activity of discussing who we would like to play us in a bio-pic proved an interesting exercise, and one that, perhaps, exposed our self-delusions rather more than we might have expected or wished.  To play us, our selections included Carey Mulligan, Harriet Walter, Sophia Loren, Keeley Hawes, Shirley Temple, Emma Thompson, and, naturally, Dame Judi Dench.  Those chosen to play our spouses were similarly revealing!  They were Benedict Cumberbatch, Guy Paul, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Spike Milligan, Clint Eastwood, and, naturally, Hugh Grant.

Meeting on St George’s Day, we discussed saints.  Bases of selection included personal and local connections – Crispin, Dubricius, Cuthbert and Petroc; general interest – Paul, David and Alban; and givers of help Anthony (lost articles) and Marguerite (lost causes – and yes, Brexit was mentioned).  And not forgetting Armand, the patron saint of beer!  Along the way we learned – in the highly unlikely event that we should ever need it – the vocabulary relating to mid-life crises and breakdowns, but we tried not to dwell too much on the ‘good old days’.  Next month we will consider who we would like to play us in an autobiographical film.

Following work on prepositions, adjectives and adverbs, in March we marked our homework exercise, using a definitive translation from a text-book.  This led to much useful discussion of different ways of saying the same thing – especially when we didn’t agree with the book!  To finish, we got acquainted with Le Petit Nicolas and his friends – translating together one of his many adventures.  Much hilarity ensued.


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