Sunday, December 14, 2008

At last, a Foreign Language!

In collège Marc can learn a Foreign Language. Marc never had any choice about learning English and French. When people say how lucky he is to speak two Foreign Languages so easily he must wonder what they mean. It was no fun for him - especially with two parents who were determined that he would speak each language to a high standard. Poor Marc was the first child and the guinea-pig of the family. Right from day one he was blasted with English from his mother (and all her family) and French from Papa (and all his family). There was never any other option than to speak both languages. It’s not that he is ungrateful for the languages we chose for him; he just would have liked a choice in the matter.

Now age eleven years and eight months, he has a real choice at last. English is obligatory all through the four years of collège, but there is an option for a second language starting in the first year. This is where Marc has his wish come true. On the menu is German, Latin or Spanish. Marc discusses each language seriously and meticulously, questioning us on which one we think is the easiest, which one is useful, and which one will help him in the future. He picks German in the end. Jacques is happy since he speaks excellent German. In fact, his mother fought to get a German class established twenty years ago in the same school, rallying round parents to give the children more choice.

The German class is small and is run via webcam, so the teacher can cover four schools at the same time. I am a bit skeptical about this futuristic set-up, but the kids accept it as normal. Talking to the microphone or the camera has become second nature. It is a delight to see Marc saying ‘Ich bin Marc!’ and chanting ‘ein, zwei, drei…’ He is fascinated by the differences and the similarities between English, French and this new language. He is amazed that German has an extra letter (the ‘ss’ sound or ß) and that they use capital letters for so many nouns and enjoys the lack of pressure to become fluent and the slow pace of learning that beginners can indulge in. Watching him enthusiastically tackle his German homework I am glad that finally language learning is fun…

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