There are almost 7,000 languages in the world today. Wow. After Chinese, English is the most widely spoken language. That makes it easy for us English-speakers; we think we really don’t need to learn another language. We are required to take a language in high school. I took Spanish, and I don’t think I could hold a conversation with anyone hispanic at all. I could point and grunt one- to two-word sentences, I think. Buenos días! Cómo estás? Gato. Blanco. Hasta la vista.
When it was time to attend war college a couple of years ago, my husband got to choose which one he preferred. Most go to Rhode Island (Navy) or Alabama (Air Force)… He, however, is a big language nut. He can say, “It’s a beautiful day!” in more than 20 languages. He has been all over the world, thanks to the US Navy, and has always tried to converse with the locals. So, he chose L’Ecole Militaire (the French War College) in Paris. But before we went, we got sent to beautiful Monterey, CA for 6 months so that he could learn French first. When we got there, his class consisted of only 5 military personnel, so they asked if any spouses would like to attend as well. So I got to go to “work” with him from 8 – 4 every weekday and learn French too. It was one of the most stressful 6 months of my life. We have 3 school-aged children who are used to having a stay-at-home, volunteer-at-school, help-with-homework mom. I was a I-have-to-study-too mom for those 6 months also. When we arrived in France, however, I was a most thankful mom to have learned the language. Granted when I spoke, they knew I wasn’t a local, but they understood me, and I could have a decent conversation. And I think I still can.
We decided to put our children in a bilingual school in Paris, as opposed to the American or International schools that a lot of others did. We wanted our children to learn the language as well. Half of their courses were taught in English, the other half in French, so they learned French fairly quickly. French K-12 schools are tougher than most American ones. (When you get to university level, it’s the opposite.) From what I can tell, most European children begin to learn a second language at the elementary level. And it’s not half an hour a week. It is a regular, everyday course.
Right now, we are having a small tug-of-war with our kids’ high school. We are trying to convince them to move our freshman daughter up to French IV from French II, as we didn’t know until her older brother took French II there last year after first arriving back to the States, that the level they took in France was much higher than we thought was parallel with US language class levels. After he suffered (from boredom) the first semester, we asked his teacher to move him up to level IV for the second semester. She wouldn’t budge, so he suffered (from boredom again) in French III. Last year, they offered only French I year-round in the middle school, so we encouraged our daughter to take it just to keep her French alive. She was bored beyond belief, but it was her easy A course, I kept trying to convince her. This semester she has a different teacher than her brother did last year, and the teacher is noticing that our daughter’s ability is beyond the French II level. So it may be a little more promising this time around. On verra…
With the hispanic population increasing in the States, I am finding Spanish might become a little more helpful. So I have decided to brush up on my “second” language and am taking a course at the local adult learning center. I often find myself saying a French word instead of a Spanish one, but it’s not as hard for me as it is for some of the others as there are a lot of similarities between the two languages (and the back of my brain is gradually opening some locked filing cabinets from 20 years ago). I may never use it, but I am having fun.
Es un día bonito!