Musings of a Multilingual – 3 | Learning French

Growing up in Canada, there are two official languages – English and French.  Growing up in English Canada, you almost always exclusively use English and French is just a language that you find on your cereal box or bag of potato chips and on road signs in national parks.

I went to an elementary school that did not have a single French class. That’s really odd.  I didn’t know how odd that was until later.  My parents anticipated that I would have to take French classes in secondary school and so I was signed up for a French tutor.  My friend’s parents had the same idea.  So why not save some money and enroll both kids for cheaper with the same tutor.

So French became my third language when I was in Grade 7, my last year of elementary school.  My French tutor was actually a Cambodian-born Chinese (a different kind of CBC) and had studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris.  So our tutor had to take two young boys from zero French to speaking, reading, and writing French.  It actually went pretty well for us.

I still remember the books we used.  They were these primary school readers published by Guerin.  The series was called Je Lis… J’ecris… I think of the books like a French version of Hooked on Phonics.  Basically it drilled in how French spelling should be pronounced.  Even though I was in Grade 7, and these books must be made for Kindergartners, they were extremely helpful in getting my French pronunciation precise.

My tutor also put us through different language drills.  We would write endless pages of verb conjugations over and over again.  We would have dictee every lesson.  We had our grammar workbooks to work on our French word order and all those French rules.

By the end of the first year, and I didn’t know it at the time, but our French was well beyond the French 8 level already.  So French was a breeze throughout high school.  My friend and I kept going to our French tutor for 3 to 4 more years until our regular high school work became too much. Having my private French lessons laid a strong foundation for my French language skills.  Sadly, as with most Canadian anglophones, we seldom have the chance to speak French.

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