Saturday, May 29, 2021

I'm glad we learned French in grade school in my town

I've mentioned this before, but I grew up in a school district where everyone took French from the time they were in first grade.

I actually studied the language nonstop from the age of 6 through my third year of college. I am not fluent in it because I was never in a situation where I was forced to speak it in order to survive, but I can read it fairly well, and my vocabulary is still pretty expansive.

The advantages of having taken French at such a young age were not limited to a better understanding of the French language and Franophone culture in general. It also gave me a better command of English. I've always said the French composition class I took at John Carroll advanced my writing skills more than any English composition class could have.

It also helped that I enjoyed all of the French teachers I had (all of whom, with one exception in college, were female, by the way). There was old Madame McCoy in the early grades. She would push her little cart of French books and flash cards from classroom to classroom and try her best to get us to learn the most basic French words.

Later it was Mademoiselles Chader and Gagliano, then Mesdames Rees and Whitehorn. They were all excellent teachers, and each left an indelible impression on me.

Mlle. Gagliano later became Madame Pumphrey, and we remain Facebook friends to this day. In sixth grade I remember her having us do a project that resulted in me writing a one-man play that I acted out in class, all in terrible, terrible French. But it was such a beneficial exercise because it forced me to make good use of my French-English dictionary, and it gave me a better understanding of verb conjugation and tenses, which were the major focus of instruction in Madame Rees' class the following year.

Wickliffe, like most public school districts of which I know, has long since abandoned the practice of elementary-school language instruction, which is too bad. I assume it's a matter of resources and the effects of state testing, but I feel it's a huge loss. If nothing else, taking a language when you're very young works so well because you're such a sponge for picking up new words at that age.

Of course, it wasn't too hard to remember the French words for "weekend" and "hot dog," which as I recall were "le weekend" and "l'hot dog." I think I aced the quiz the week those were on the vocabulary list.


  1. Playing "Mille Borne" in 4th grade at Euclid Park Elementary School. Believe it or not Cleveland Schools did this in their "major work" classes, teaching French, that is.

    1. Mille Borne, yes! I’m all for language instruction at that age (whatever the language).