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The Cambridge CELTA Feast of Fools

What’s the connection between the medieval French festival, the Feast of Fools, and the Cambridge CELTA course? Here is the short answer: the CELTA foreign language lesson.

Centuries of Role Reversal

The Feast of Fools originated in the North of France in the high Middle Ages, when lower clergy-men would, for one day of the year, take on the role of higher clergy members, up to, and including the pope, while higher clergy-men took on the roles of those beneath them. More than a thousand years before, Ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a week-long carnival where role-reversals were even more widespread: mothers became fathers, masters became slaves, and teachers became students…

Far from a lesson in humility for the more powerful, this was a festival for the masses: moral restrictions were eased, as the possibility of stepping into the shoes of those more (or less) powerful created a rush of freedom and revelry.

The Tradition Continues

On a much smaller scale, the CELTA foreign language lesson brings together similar conditions and leads to similar scenes of joy. For one session, the CELTA trainer teaches candidates a “foreign language,” i.e., a language that none of the other trainees know, and which is structurally distinct from any language known by the group: from Arabic in places like Singapore or China, to Serbian in North Africa, to Tamazight or Swahili in Europe, CELTA candidates get to see what it’s like, first-hand, to learn a completely foreign language from scratch.

On English for Africa’s most recent intensive CELTA course, which took place in Meknes in August 2023, the candidates were taught Brazilian Portuguese by their tutor, Rubens Heredia.

Functional Language Lesson

Just how much can one learn of a completely foreign language in just one lesson? Much to the candidates’ surprise, quite a lot.

Rather than dive into theory, or teach students the alphabet or introductions, in the true communicative tradition, students are subjected to a functional language lesson: phrases and responses to deal with real-life situations are modeled and drilled in context, then practiced extensively, so that, within one hour, students who know next to nothing about a language are able to accomplish real-life acts of communication.

By the end of their lesson, our candidates had learned to order drinks in a Brazilian café. What more real-life situation can there be than this?

The Tradition Continues

When people think back to their CELTA course many years, or even decades later, it is often the foreign language lesson that sticks out most in their minds.

The candidates not only get to experience first-hand a functional language lesson in a foreign language, with all the pedagogical and methodological lessons that that entails, they get to be something that many of them hadn’t been in many, many years: an absolute beginner in a foreign language.

More profoundly, just as during Saturnalia, they get to reverse roles, leaving behind that of teacher, which they had been trying to grow into for years, and molding themselves into that of the student. As with the Festival of Fools, the teachers experience a completely new type of joy, as years of aspirations give way to the freedom of relinquishing one’s dreams, and focusing on being the opposite of what one had sought to become: an absolute beginner, a student, a learner.

Usually held at the beginning of the course, the foreign language lesson is an opportunity for candidates to bond with each other around a shared and atypical encounter—an encounter with the mirror image of what they had projected themselves to be. A novel understanding is unveiled of what being a language student really means, which feeds the candidate’s insight into the teaching and learning process during the course, and far, far beyond. For more information about the CELTA or our other teacher training courses, contact us: at, or +212680542220.


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