I remember Mom once asking me what language I thought in when I spoke French. “French,” I replied. She seemed astonished.
Seems amazing to me now too. Heck I can barely form coherent thoughts in “Northern Albertan” – my native tongue – much the less one I’ve barely spoken over 20 years. But I did start off quite strong. It was learn or perish at my elementary school.
My folks put me in French Immersion starting with Mme Siry in grade one. Mom speaks only English. Dad was bilingual, but the only times I eve heard him speak German were when visiting Grandma in the summer. My brother and I were going to know both official languages if it killed us.
I make it sound dire, but there were several quirks that made it tough to get through the first week of school.
First, I was always a slightly timid kid. Certainly not one to intentionally draw attention to myself in class.
Second, I’m a rules follower. Which is a shame. I would have made an excellent rebel if only I had the wherewithal to rebel.
Third, the teacher asked us to ask all our questions in French.
Fourth, my grade one class contained ringers. They bused in these fluent French kids from up the hill. They lived in the small French community of Marie Reine. They were quite able to spend the whole day in French without ever speaking English.
Fifth, a six-year-old bladder is not meant to hold though an hour and a half of classes until recess or lunch.
These brainiac French kids would brassily stick up their hand and rattle off, “Est ce que je peux allez au toilettes, s’il vous plait?” I’d be sitting there thinking, “i can either concentrate on memorizing that phrase or holding my bladder.” And they talked so quickly.
Oddly enough the official curriculum didn’t contain a lot of words about the washroom. We learned to walk the dog and cross the road and do our homework in French. There were phrase strung up along the tops of the walls. “Martine marche a l’ecole.”, “Luc traverse la rue.” I guess neither Luc nor Martine ever had to go leak the lizard. Darn them.
So all I had were these little Marie Reiners. Speaking so fast and confidently.
You learn pretty quickly. And once you’ve figured out how important it is, you continue to learn. I mean you never knew when you’d need another new phrase in elementary school.. like look out for that moose or I think that is a radioactive isotope in your desk.
Unfortunately, I never did learn to master those phrase in the future imperfect tense.