La langue de chez nous

At Random column by Kristin Froneman reflecting on first day of school

I couldn’t help to flashback to my own childhood as I rejoiced –– OK, sobbed –– while taking my daughter to her Grade 1 class on her first day of school this week.

Teachers all over the school grounds greeted returning students, and parents, with “Bonjour! Comment s’est passé votre été?”

To which we customarily replied: “Bien, merci, et vous?”

For me to speak the language of my childhood holds a special place in my heart, and to be able to hear and speak it in Vernon is “très” cool.

As you may have guessed, I am now a Beairsto parent, which along with being a Silver Star mom,  an Alexis Park dad, a Mission Hill grandma, is all equally valuable and  important. It’s about our kids’ education, after all.

But when I tell people I have enrolled my child in French immersion, I either get the thumbs up, or the raised eyebrow.

I can tell what the eyebrow is thinking, “What does she need French for? We are living in B.C., after all.”

To the naysayers, I often reply how a second language is good for overall language development, how it helps in future employment, whether working for government, teaching, or becoming a UN translator (one can dream), and it’s also great if you ever need to order a meal in Québec, France or any of the other 28 or so French-speaking places in the world.

(Just be careful when ordering a “Coke” as you might get a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, un Croque Monsieur, like I did in a Paris Metro station once.)

To be honest, one of the reasons I enrolled my kid in French immersion is that I want to live vicariously through her experiences.

Yes, I jest, it’s all about me.

As a young child growing up in a Montreal suburb, my parents had the nerve to send me to a French Catholic school, which was funny because I was neither French, or Catholic.

I now attribute my basic knowledge of French to my Grade 1 and 2 teacher Fenandre (for some reason, we addressed our teachers by their first names.) She didn’t speak any English, so I had no choice but to learn and speak French “tout le temps”, and I did.

I eventually learned to roll my rrrrrrrrs like nobody’s business.

I learned the correct gender for nouns even when they didn’t make sense. (The rule that an e on the end of a word is feminine doesn’t always apply, i.e., la maison, le tete.)

I also managed to make my way through the  grand confusion of past and future tense for verbs, including using être for those “vandertramp” action verbs.

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, it won’t hurt to take a few extra French classes. In fact, that’s why I’m glad my daughter is studying French, ‘cause this stuff isn’t easy to remember, “n’est-ce pas?”

I may not recall all that I learned back in my early days as a full-on French student, but some of it does come back when I am given the opportunity to speak. For example, I did have a wonderful, albeit disjointed, conversation with a Quebec-born Katimavik student here in Vernon recently. His eyes lit up with my attempt at speaking his language –– our national language.

As you may have noticed, I have even discovered how to write the accents: aigu (é), grave (à), circonflexe (ô) and tréma (ë) on my computer. (Hey, I cover arts so it comes in handy!)

Having a basic understanding of another language has reminded me how many opportunities and adventures can be opened, how relationships between different cultures can be made through mutual understanding, basically why we learn in the first place.


“Ce n’est pas difficile.”

– Kristin Froneman is the arts editor for The Morning Star. She writes a rotating At Random column for the newspaper.