Professeur de Français

Although I studied French literature in France, I never planned to be a teacher. But being a parent does make anyone a teacher.

As for me, becoming a mother came with an additional perk or obstacle depending on how you consider a challenge: raising my children away from my native France.

Except for my eldest daughter born and raised in Paris for a year, English and French have constantly cohabited in my home for my three younger children.  I had big strategies when it came to making them bilingual and bicultural.

First I would only speak and read French to my children so they would understand my mother language and not catch my French accent when I speak English. Then I would teach them the French grammar so they would also read.

My plans didn’t work as expected. The main reason was my difficulty to be a teacher to my own children.

French was the language we spoke in the coziness of our home. It was in French that I comforted my children when they fell, got an immunization, had a fight with a friend or just a cold. It was in French that I read bedtime stories, sang and told my children about my own childhood.

If I taught them French in a formal way, wouldn’t the warmth of our relationship disappear? If I made them learn French conjugations, wouldn’t the verb aimer lose its meaning?

Let’s face it: I was afraid they would hate the French language if I were to be a real teacher.

I only sat down a few times with my children, all of them still in elementary school, with a French method, paper and pencils on the table.  Excitement built inside me until I saw their faces pinched with a mix of amusement and annoyance. And I gave up without really trying.

In the end, my three daughters took French in high school.  Someone else taught them the different groups that divide the French verbs and made them learn their conjugations. Each of them got excellent scores on their SAT subject test. They don’t owe me their success.

My son taught himself how to read with the Tintin albums and he would love to take Italian classes when his time comes in high school.

Yes, my children understand French, can read a menu and much more, can watch French cinema although they are partial to American movies, know many French singers, often from the 80s due to their parents’ discotheque, and can talk to their French grandparents.

No, they don’t talk to me in French, and yes, they alternate between Maman and Mom when they address me.

We live in a permanent world of Franglais but we don’t notice since it is our world.

I abandoned my dream of teaching French to my children but I have taught occasionally my mother language to other children, and they have enjoyed it.

So, now that one by one my children are spreading their wings onto the wide world and leaving the nest, it is time for me to become a French teacher.

I have finally said yes to the countless offers I received to teach French lessons.

This spring for eight weeks I will teach the beauty and tricks of the language I learned many years ago in France to American children and adults.

I will read on their faces the same mix of excitement and annoyance I read on my children’s faces.

But it will be okay.

They won’t be my children and they will love having a French teacher who is really French.

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