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As incomprehensible as Jean Chretien was in English, I've heard that his French is actually worse.

Yesterday was my first teaching assignment at an FI (French Immersion, for you non-Canadians out there) school.  To be honest, even though I had never taught French before, I wasn’t even nervous going into it.

“Because your French is impeccable?” you may ask.

Ha ha.

No.

It was because I was supposed to be taking over for the Core English teacher that day.  You see, as immersive as French Immersion is (and I should know, having taken it from kindergarten to grade 3), you still need to teach the kids some English so that they can read both sides of their cereal boxes.  I walked into the school thinking that I would walk the halls from classroom to classroom singing “God Save the Queen” while the rest of the teachers wrinkled their noses over glasses of red wine and plates of croissants.

Of course, when I arrived, I learned that due to the large number of teachers that were in meetings throughout the day, I had been put into a “Johnny on the spot” role, bouncing from one class to the next over the three instructional blocks.  And the first class was definitely not Core English.

It was grade 1 FI.

Parlez-vous français?” the teacher asked me, halfway through giving me the lesson instructions in English.

“Um,” I responded hesitantly, “je parle un peu.  Mais je parle le français d’un touriste, pas le français d’école.”  (Rough translation: “I can’t really speak any reasonable amount of French.  I can order ham and cheese sandwiches while in Paris, but there’s no way that I’m going to be of any use in teaching proper grammar or conjugating the irregular verbs.”)

The look I received wasn’t exactly pity; it reminded me of an episode of King of the Hill where Peggy, a substitute Spanish teacher, tried to speak to an actual Mexican Spanish-speaker.

“Ah,” he replied, “you speak Spanish… in a way.”

Riding high from that response, I proceeded to spend the morning feeling linguistically inadequate to a bunch of kids that barely reached my knee.  Yes, their sentences were simple but they were all in French, and their spelling was better than mine.

Things didn’t improve when I spent the second part of the day in the grade 2 FI class, where the students now had to translate some of their own requests to me into English just so I could understand them.  I found myself cursing my French teachers for spending so much time teaching me Halloween related vocabulary and sentences about the location of my aunt’s pen relative to a table.  At no point did they consider that I might need more phrases like, “Shut up!” or “Stop hitting that other kid!” or “You just went to the bathroom.  Suck it up and sit down for two minutes.”

Curse you, Madame Schaller.  I didn’t get the chance to say ananas once yesterday.

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