Sunday, February 3, 2013

Franglais

 My oldest baby is officially registered in French immersion kindergarten for September!  In what feels like a lifetime ago, I could converse fairly comfortably in French.  I'm certain that my English accent and occasional flubs (i.e. asking for pop in a canoe when I intended to say can) triggered people to speak on a more elementary level to me, but I managed well enough to function.  That lifetime ago was actually almost thirteen years ago, when I participated in a French immersion program at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.  I learned more conversational French during my six weeks there than I had learned in eight years of elementary and high school, and two years of university.  Part of the reason that I want my kids to go to French immersion school is because of the fantastic experience I had in Quebec, and the opportunities that mastering a second language can afford.  The singular fact that knowing a second language allows you the opportunity to know a vastly larger number of people in this world is enough of a reason for me to want to know a second language.  As far as languages are concerned, there are probably other languages that will be more useful than French when my kids are grown, but it has many benefits as one of the official languages of our country.  Also, it helps you to decipher the menu at a fancy restaurant.  One day, there will probably be an app to instantly translate your speech into another language, but...that might be kind of weird.
La Croix de Ste. Anne in Chicoutimi where I spent some warm summer evenings.  (image from Wikipedia)
The view of Chicoutimi-Nord from the Cross.  The home I stayed in was on the other side of the Cathedral, where I attended a service or two.  (Image from Wikipedia)
Last week, I took the boys to the equivalent of Strong Start at the local francophone school.  I felt like I had just arrived in Chicoutimi again, able to conjugate verbs in my sleep, but not knowing whether the teacher asked us to take off our shoes or if we would like to eat some cauliflower soup.  Perhaps it wasn't that dire, but I realized very quickly that my French skills might no longer be categorized as skills.  The teacher introduced me to another mother, and I was sure that she indicated that this woman was expecting another baby.  Using my rusty French and a variety of spastic hand gestures to my own stomach, I asked her if she was having a girl or a boy.  She proceeded to tell me about her two children, and didn't mention anything about a child in utero.  Can you say "faux pas"?
The experience reminded me what it feels like to be at a disadvantage in terms of communication, and how challenging life may be for those have immigrated to our country and don't speak the language.  It must be tempting to retreat, and surround yourself only with those who can speak your language.  I forgot how exhausting learning another language is, and how self-conscious you feel with unfamiliar sounds coming out of your mouth.  By the end of my three hours there, my brain was so fatigued that I wasn't totally sure if I was understanding the teacher when she spoke English to me.  Seriously.
We will attempt to go again, and I'm hopeful that my French will improve as the kids gain exposure to another language.  The awesome thing is that O thinks that I'm fluent.  This was his unprompted comment to me in the car as we were driving yesterday:

"Mom, you're so special.  Jesus is the most special, but you're special because you speak French.  Daddy doesn't speak French, but he's still special."

Whew, good thing I have French to make me special!  I hope he doesn't find out it's closer to Franglais!

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