ELC trains some future presidents!

We at ELC absolutely love our client, the French Development Agency. It is full of wonderful people who travel all over the planet to try to make the world a better place in terms of climate, biodiversity, health and education.

Unfortunately for us, our only missions for the AFD for the moment are in Marseille, even though we would very happily travel to Cuba, Nouméa, Johannesburg, Cotonou and more to give our lessons ….!

This year, we have a particularly wonderful group of people who are studying for a master’s degree in Project Ownership for Development with options such as public finance, good governance, finance, PPP, financial development and …. English with Nick and myself.

Our four groups, made up of public and private sector workers from, West, North, Central Africa, Haïti, Madagascar, Mauritius and Cuba, are all on their second or third master’s degree and are an amazing source of exchange and debate for us. No doubt this is not the last we will see of them on the global stage!

This week, each student will be making a presentation in English worthy of the United Nations so please join us in wishing them good luck! You’re all wonderful!

ELC goes to London.

Yes indeed!

In the interests of being always better for our dear clients, ELC, as fully-fledged members of the TOLES examination network – that’s the Test of Legal English Skills for the lay folk – decided to go to London, to do a course in legal English.

The two-day event took place at the Law Society in Chancery Lane, the equivalent of the French Ordre des Avocats. Even as we exited the tube, we were aware of entering a whole new world. Busy lawyers strode down Chancery lane, their arms full of briefs, concentration furrowing their brows as they went over their pleas … The shops around us were filled with the wigs and gowns of barristers and our heads were immediately filled with scenes from great works such as “In the Name of the Father” and “The Trials of Oscar Wilde” but also films that we actually understood like “A Fish Called Wanda” and “Legally Bond”.

The event was held in the most beautiful of London buildings and the quality of the lecturers was second to none:

Elahe Ghazinoori, director of the law firm EMG Associates, gave an interesting opening speech on how to fireproof your contracts ahead of Brexit – a topic on everyone’s minds this week.

The author, Ken Adams gave a fascinating lecture on modern contract drafting: a move away from archaic terms and towards simpler, clearer texts.

Alex Hamilton, of the company Radiant Law, London, gave an insightful talk into the role of Artificial Intelligence in the legal profession and how we should neither shy away from nor fear new technologies but work hand in hand with it to improve our methods and make us more efficient.

Richard Lackey, international translator, took us through the tricky practice of translating legal terms from one legal jurisdiction to another and The event was closed by Catherine Mason, founding member and director of TOLES Legal, who gave an in-depth look into the mysteries of this excellent exam.

The quality and the professionalism of the seminar was excellent, but I cannot go without mentioning the warmth, the kindness, the intelligence and the wonderful spirit of co-operation between the attendees.

We cannot wait to meet them again at the next conference!

The year was 1066. The event … the Battle of Hastings

The most famous date and the most famous battle in English history. The year that William, Duke of Normandy crossed the Channel and King Harold got a nasty surprise.

At this time, Saxon England didn’t have any firm rules about who became king. Basically, when one king died, the crown passed to anyone who could show they had a claim to it, or to anyone who was quick enough to take it.

When Edward the Confessor died on 5th January 1066, the King’s Council chose Harold Godwinsson as he was a ‘Nice Man’ who claimed that Edward had promised him the throne on his deathbed …

Everything went well for the coronation but then everything started to go pear-shaped.  Another pretender to the throne, William the Bastard, got word of Harold’s coronation and his French blood started to boil. He was NOT a happy Frenchman!

It seems that William had made Harold promise on holy relics, that he would support William in his quest to be King. And now he realised that that naughty Englishman hadn’t been entirely honest…!

No-one really knows whether this was true or not, but we know what happened next … a flaming ball of fire, described by the Anglo-Saxon chronicle at the time as a ‘hairy star’ appeared in the heavens. William was certain that this hairy star was a sign of God’s anger at Harold for breaking his oath and so it was ample authorisation for him to go to war …

   

… the very next day, he and his Norman army started building an invasion fleet.

Meanwhile, in England, Harold was having a wonderful time as king. His lover for many years had been the beautiful Edith Swan-Neck with whom he had had five sons and two daughters, but to cement his power with the English aristocrats, he decided to marry Ealdgyth, a woman whose brothers were powerful earls in the country.

He would have been better to concentrate on his other family, however. In the summer of 1066, with unfortunate timing, Harold learnt that his brother (who also would have liked to be king) had gone to see the King of Norway (the forth pretender to the throne) and the two had formed an alliance against Harold. The two had already landed their forces in Northumbria and had taken the town of York.

Harold knew that William was poised for attack on the other side of the Channel, but nevertheless, he marched his troops up Britain in record time, killed both men who threatened to take his throne, turned around and jogged all the way back to London where he collected reinforcements, and proceeded to Hastings, taking position on a hill to have the advantage over the Normans.


And so battle commenced.

Now, you will certainly have noticed that the handsome French are riding horses whereas the English are fighting on foot. Harold’s army did have horses … they rode them to battle, but then they tied them up and went into battle on their tired feet. This, it is said, was the beginning of their endings. The English, after their marathon exploit, were not prepared for the force of the Norman horsemen. There were also slight tactical errors when some of the Saxons left their positions at the top of the hill and ran down the hill shouting English insults at the French. Unfortunately, when they reached the bottom, there was no-where left to go except into the arms of the French who chopped them into pieces.

The Battle lasted six hours, and was one of the longest-recorded military encounters in the Middle Ages, but in the end England became Norman. Duke William of Normandy became England’s third king in the tumultuous year of 1066 and his defeated enemy Harold, lay dead on the battlefield with an arrow in his eye … or so we have always thought…!

The earliest recording of the arrow in the eye story has been found in an Italian chronicle written in 1080, but the more likely account of Harold’s death, written only the year after Hastings, is less romantic. According to the “Song of the Battle of Hastings” by Guy, bishop of Amiens, when Williams saw that Harold was still resisting, he handpicked a hit squad and went off to meet him.… four Norman knights tracked Harold down, and overpowered him, the first striking him in the breast, the second cutting off his head, the third putting a lance through his belly and the fourth hacking off his leg (or possibly another appendix if rumours are to be believed).

When William heard of this mutilation, he was horrified and sent home the knight responsible in disgrace.  However, he still took over the country and for 400 years following the Battle of Hastings, the English were subjected to subjugation, famine, ethnic atrocities and French humour.

And this is one of the reasons why we have so many nice French words in English, like to demand (‘exiger’ – you can see the misunderstanding between the two populations!), beef, mutton, pork, etc .. (notice that the meat takes the French names and the animals: cow, sheep, pig, etc … take the Saxon names….)

And so we see that the Bayeux Tapestry gives us 70m of “proof” (slightly modified over the years by seamstresses from France and England) that history can be just anything you care to make it and a lesson to learn for the future. Indeed, in 1940, when German forces had occupied Normandy and the rest of Northern France, and as Hitler was preparing to invade England, a group of scholars were dispatched to investigate what lessons could be learnt from the record of the last successful cross-Channel invasion! Who knows what would have happened to Churchill’s leg if he had made it across?!

Learning : What an adventure?

A recent article in Cognition magazine theorizes that if you haven’t started a new language before the age of 10, there is little to no chance of you ever being fluent. It seems that our grammar-learning abilities are preserved until adulthood (the ripe old age of 17.4!) and then decline steadily from there.

For anyone struggling with the present perfect continuous, this will come as good news. It’s not your fault. It’s nature!

I remember my very first year of French aged 9 (dangerously close to the limit, you might observe) sweating and straining, sucking my pen top until the ink painted lagoons around my lips, desperately trying to retain a list of ten words of vocabulary.

It was lucky that my parents that year, in a desperate measure to open my unworldly brain to other cultures, broke their piggy bank and took my brother and I to France for a four-week camping holiday during which I barely spoke a word, being painfully shy and averse to talking to strangers of any type. However, I was secretly observing every movement, every gesticulation, every pouted pronunciation and apparently, this was enough to liberate something deep within me, making me much less of a dunce the following year.

So, in terms of fundamental similarities, I think immersion is the number one way for anyone to get closer to fluency in another language, and probably why citizens of countries like Aruba, Luxembourg, Singapore and South Africa are much more successful at being polyglot. They all have either complex colonial histories, strong regional loyalties or the cultural influence of nearby superpowers which mean that their populations are forced into listening to and speaking several languages from birth.

According to the results of a vote organized for European Day of Languages, Britain has been revealed to be the most monolingual country in Europe … quite possibly the world. We really are rubbish. Certainly, a part of this stems from a chauvinistic belief that we don’t need any other languages – that shouting in English at waiters in any country is more than enough to get by. Another part of the problem is that we don’t learn grammar at school. We learn spelling so that we spell things like ‘embarrassment’ right (wait, is that two r’s or one? … dammit!). Thus, at the ancient age of 9 when we finally settle down to learn French, German or Spanish and discover conjugation, it’s just too much to handle.

I recollect being absent on the day our French teacher explained the difference between those verbs which took the auxiliary ‘avoir’ and those which took ‘être’ in the passé composé and it took me a whole year to catch up. It just didn’t seem rational for an intelligent nation to have concocted such a rule!

And yet, once you have learnt your ‘er’, ‘ir’ and ‘re’ verbs (and of course the irregulars), once you have mastered the subjunctive and can perform feats of the impossible such as “j’eusse aimé que tu m’eusses reçu hier”, learning French becomes a wonderful voyage of discovery.

English, on the other hand, seems deceptively easy when you first begin to speak. The present simple …. What could be simpler ….? The preterit? …. The same rules again more or less? The future? Just write “will”? I’ll be fluent in days!

And yet no. It is still so rare to find someone who gets it perfectly right. And why is that? Is it the present perfect that makes everything suddenly so complicated? Is it the numerous phrasal verbs that give English-learners the shivers? Is it the musicality of the language that takes us all over the musical spectrum before dive-bombing to a full-stop or is it the tonic accent which gives people away (I note that even Macron, whose English is incredibly passable, still slips up sometimes on where to stress his words) http://urlz.fr/7372

Whatever it is, it is not a reason to give up. English is a language for communication and even if you spell embarrassment with one ‘r’ and put the tonic accent of ‘anchor’ at the end of the word instead of the beginning, you’re still learning a language, you’re opening yourself up to the world, you’re protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s so you’re still a hero to me.