• Carmen Marie Fabio

School daze


A friend recently told me that one of her child-rearing policies is not to ask anything of her kids that she wouldn’t do herself. I admire her for this. I get my kids to do all kinds of things that I wouldn’t do myself. Heck, that’s one of the reasons I had kids.

The sentiment, however, resonated for me and after recently having enrolled my 13-year-old son in French school, I promised him – apart from the laptop and cellphone (he kindly declined my offer of a pony) – that I would also take courses to improve my own command of Canada’s other official language.

While his transition has not been without its bumps and hiccups, he has settled into the routine and, blessed with an understanding academic staff and administration who are used to dealing with the challenges the French language presents to its Anglophone, Allophone, and even Francophone student body, he improves daily and exponentially.

My own progress has encountered a few more hurdles. Were I newly arrived in this province as a unilingual Anglophone, myriad Francization courses would be available to me, but as a native Quebecer who speaks un français passable, I fall between the linguistic cracks. I have twice registered for college level courses in the region only to be told my French was too advanced for the course material. A West Island French language Cegep has told me all their advanced French language courses had been cancelled due to government cuts.

A West Island satellite office of a large Montreal University showed promise until a communication breakdown (ironically) over test de classement deadlines between myself and the brusque, unpleasant woman on the other line ended badly. In all fairness, I was equally rude, hanging up on her, but not before wishing her a “bonne journée.”

I did finally find a French writing course and though it’s significantly further than I wanted to drive, I’ve been attending as often as I can – both for my own benefit and as an example for my son.

It’s blessed with the benefit of hindsight and perspective that I read the story of the PETES students threatened with rezoning whose parents are considering sending their kids to a nearby French school (see story on page 10). And while they perceive this as a desperate situation, I would urge them to reconsider it as a golden opportunity.

My son was in French Immersion in an English school since kindergarten and an honour student, continually achieving good grades in all his courses. That was until I had a good hard look at the work he was doing and began trying to engage him in French conversation and realized that no matter what sales pitch I’d been receiving and the grades he’d been getting, he still had a minimal grasp of the French language.

His French teacher at the new school told me flat out, “Effectivement, ton fils éprouve de nombreuses difficultés en français... sa structure de phrases ne correspond pas nécessairement à un élève de 2e secondaire.”

I appreciate her honesty.

By the grace of the internet and the entertainment world, the English language is here to stay and is in no way threatened. The ability to learn a second language is a gift and if the recipient can master and benefit from it before they’re middle-aged , or even teenagers, then it becomes all the more precious and useful.

If you can learn from my mistakes, then tant mieux, embrace the opportunity that’s being given.

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