My France - Sophie Raworth

France, its culture and language, have captivated SOPHIE RAWORTH since she was a child. Now it’s starting to rub off on her own daughter, the BBC newsreader tells Ellie Fullalove

France, its culture and language, have captivated SOPHIE RAWORTH since she was a child. Now it’s starting to rub off on her own daughter, the BBC newsreader tells Ellie FullaloveYou studied French at university – what made you choose that subject?I actually did a joint honours in French and German. As a child we had some friends who moved to the Dordogne and my parents used to take us there. We used to drive down, probably once a year. I would sit in the back of the car reading French comics and French kids’ books my dad gave me. He was a very keen French speaker and that’s what really got me into it.

As a student you went to Toulouse – what did your year abroad teach you that a classroom couldn’t?It was the perfect opportunity to immerse myself. I was offered the chance to go off and do a university course but decided I wanted to teach. I still remember arriving at this secondary school, just outside Toulouse (pictured below), where I was teaching a class of 16-year-old boys. I was only about 19 at the time and for the first few months I could hardly understand what they were saying, they were speaking so fast! They would all be teasing me but I remember the moment when it all clicked. I hung out with French people the whole time and became completely fluent.

Do you want to go back?I should go back but I don’t know anyone there any more. A lot of the people I knew were Parisians – they were gone two years after I left. I spent a lot of time in Paris after that.

What are your favourite memories from that time?In Toulouse, I remember bars and parties, amazing food – cassoulet! I drove over the border to Spain once. Being able to drive down to the south of France at the drop of a hat is such freedom compared to living in Britain, where you have to get on a ferry or go under the Channel.

Have you been on any professional assignments in France or where you’ve used your French?I did some work experience with the BBC where I spent a week in the Paris bureau. After training, one of my first jobs was as a producer in Brussels. I used my languages a lot for two years, which was fantastic. When I finished in Toulouse I was in this real quandary about whether or not I should come back to Britain. I felt like I’d really like to stay there and be French. I go to France and other French-speaking countries now as much as I can but have no ambitions for a second home.

Is it important to you to keep up your French?Yes, definitely. I spoke so much of it, for so long, that I can still understand people very easily. Even if I only go to France once or twice a year, my French is pretty fluent. I pick it up very quickly.

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Will you be encouraging your children to take up a language?Actually, my daughter came home yesterday and told me she’d had her first French lesson. She looked at me and said: Bonjour, je m’appelle Ella’, and I thought how sweet that was! I did consider sending my kids to a bilingual school in London. I had to put in a lot of hard work and effort learning French but kids pick it up so fast. It’s a fantastic skill to have.

If you weren’t a newsreader do you think you would have continued to teach?Teaching in France was one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever done – it was exhausting, the mental energy you had to put into it! As soon as I left university I got into media, so I’ve never really looked back. It was quite an experience and I have utter respect for teachers. Did you read that book, La Petite Anglaise? It is really funny. The author Catherine Sanderson did the same course as me, although not with me. But she stayed in France so I always think that that’s the other path.