I don’t hate French anymore
If anyone would have asked me a week ago if I would like to learn French, I would have said: “Thank you, but no thank you.” Why? Because I was a self-proclaimed French language hater. I didn’t enjoy the way the language sounded and had no interest in learning it. Spanish, Swedish, yes, but French? No, thank you. Then I came to Agen, France for the CI/TPRS conference. I was set on observing Spanish lessons all week, because just as much as I had no interest in learning French, I really wanted to learn Spanish. I love the sound of it and I liked my Spanish class in College. I had Spanish for about 4 months and I felt successful in those 4 months. I had French for two years in grade 7 & 8 and I absolutely hated it. I barely passed the class and was thrilled to abandon it when I could. I don’t remember much from my French class. I remember long vocabulary list, flashcards, that are still somewhere in my mom’s house catching dust and freaking out over the accents that accompanied some of the French letters. What I felt when I thought of French is a certain level of anxiety that I couldn’t really explain, but that made me say for the past 20 years: I hate French.
Despite my great distaste for the French language in school and the fact that while I have always loved the sound of English (I said that I would marry someone who speaks English when I was 5) I didn’t really love my English classes, I am now bilingual and a language teacher. I have lived abroad for over 12 years and am passionate about what I do and wanting to find the time to learn more languages. (I am just reading “El nuevo Houdini” by Carol Gaab to get back to Spanish) So I came to Agen to be with like-minded people to learn more about how to successfully reach all of my students in my German classes. I first joined Margarita Pérez García’s Spanish class and I loved her energy in the classroom. I realized though that while she was amazing, the class was hard to follow, because the translations were given in French (L1). This in itself was a valuable lesson, because I have so many students at my school now, whose first language is not English. It put me in their shoes for a while and let me feel how exhausting it can be even though I was able to at least understand the Spanish and some words in French. Some of my students know absolutely no German or English. After this first session I decided to switch to the French class, given by Sabrina Sebban-Janczak, where the common language (L1) was English. I joined the class as an observer on Monday, but quickly decided that the only way to really experience the class from the student perspective, is to join the class as a student. The number one thing I have learned from this experience of being the beginning language learner once again is this: Every single language teacher should be required to take a language class in a language they don’t understand. It should, without a doubt, be mandatory.
Every teacher should take a beginning language class, because here is what mine did to me. Within 3 hours and about 7 hours of CI/TPRS French instructions, I have completely changed my tone. I don’t hate French anymore. I am interested in learning more and the burden of hate (because honestly hating anything is exhausting) has been taken away from me. I came to the realization that I do not hate French and probably never did. I really hated how I was made to feel when I first learned French. The anxiety I felt for not learning (There was no acquisition) and memorizing things as quickly as some of my classmates and for getting confused with all those accents stayed with me all these years and was responsible for me saying: I hate French.
So what was it that was so different in my experience in Sabrina’s class that created this big change within me?
All of this from four days in a CI French class.
Now I do realize that not everyone would have the same exact experience as I had because everyone comes with a different backstory and unique self. What I did realize over the course of the week though, was that within this great community of CI/TPRS teachers, I am part of a minority. And this is really important and I think, puts me at a slight advantage. Throughout the entire week, I heard statements like this: “Most students don’t care about grammar. They don’t get excited when they learn about grammar. We get excited about it, because we belong to the 4% who find the structure interesting. That is why we went on to study language and became language teachers.” This is NOT why I became a language teacher. This is not my backstory. This is not why I am here. I am in the minority within this community, but you should not ignore my voice, because I am your typical language learner. I am part of the 96% of students that you teach. I don’t care about grammar jargon and I don’t see value in teaching it. I wanted to learn languages only for one reason: to communicate.
Language to me is a way to communicate with others. Acquiring a language lets me understand and eventually make myself understood to others. I believe that communicating with someone in their native language is a sign of respect. That is why I am a language teacher. I believe that language is a tool to bring us closer together. This is why I immediately took to CI/TPRS, it lets me teach what I think is the most crucial aspect of language: understanding.
CI/TPRS have given me the tools to teach in a way that would have reached my inner 12 year old. Before I came to Agen, I remembered one sentence from my French class in middle school: Vite a la gare (Quickly to the train station), which considering that I took the train from Toulouse to Agen could have given me at least three words that could have been helpful. An experience in my adult life made even that sentence useless, when my former French colleague told me that I had a “horrible American accent” when I said it.
Note: If you at this point want to tell me >Stop being so sensitive!< you might as well talk to a bowl of blueberries and tell them >Stop being so blue< it will have about the same effect, you can’t change who you are.
I am an adult and I should be able to tell myself, hey at least I tried, but that voice is quickly drowned by my inner 12 year old. That 12 year old shy, reserved, highly sensitive, introverted child is still there and while it learned mechanisms to cope, it hasn’t completely acquired that one mistake, one mispronunciation doesn’t make you stupid, it makes you human. This 12 year old still snarks a little when I tell my students “People always appreciate when you make an effort to speak to them in their native language. Trying shows that you care!” This 12 year old still looks for her own inadequacies rather than realizing that putting someone down is the real inadequacy. This 12 year old is buried deep within myself, under layers of good experiences and coping strategies but man, can it shout! But you know what quiet a part of it, the part that made me hate French? The part that stopped me from learning before? The loving, safe environment of Sabrina Sebban-Janczak’s classroom. After 7 hours in her classroom, I ordered my lunch in French, spoke to someone in a children’s boutique in French and was happy to try and happy to see that people did appreciate that I tried and helped me out in return.
So my message to you is this. In this nation of extroverts (I am taking this term from Susan Cain’s book “Quiet” which is a fabulous book to learn more about introverts and highly sensitive people - who are a far bigger population than you think) we have forgotten that everyone is different, because we expect them to act the same. We cater to the loud and dominant, because we forget to notice and often dismiss the quiet. But disregarding them, making them feel uncomfortable and unwanted can often leave scars that influence them way into their adult lives. Thank you Sabrina, for lifting the scar. Thank you, Ben Slavic for making me the artist during your coaching and making that inner 12 year old smile big and filled with pride. Thank you TPRS and CI community for given me the tools to treat my students as respected human beings. You are changing kids’ lives. Ben Slavic calls what he does flying the freak flag but it’s really the decent human being flag. Keep on waving it proudly!
PS: A message to all of my students now and then: