Sunday, December 14, 2008

Low Marks in English

Marc is now in collège (French equivalent of secondary school/high school) and studies by subject now. Madame P. has been teaching English for at least 17 years (she taught my husband when he was at the same school!). You might think that she would be proud that one of her ex-pupils married an English girl, works for an English-language company and now has bilingual children. However, she doesn’t seem quite so happy to see the name ‘Hauwaert’ again.

The term started badly when she played a little ice-breaker game (as she always does). Each child’s name was Anglicized, to get the kids in the mood, so Francois became Frank and Amandine was Amanda. Half the class had a name that existed in both languages (Julie, Charlotte, Sarah, Thomas, Kevin to name but a few) which she could not do much about. Perhaps lacking suitable translations, due to French parents picking Anglophone names, she made the fatal error of re-naming Marc ‘Mark’. This is a sensitive issue, one he has battled with since he was four and started writing his name in an English school. He hates it mis-spelled and valiantly defends ‘Marc’ as an ‘English’ name too, saying it exists in America and England. But Madame P. firmly corrects his namecard.

Marc/Mark is furious and goes out of his way to correct her English expressions and criticize her choice of ‘baby songs’ for the French students to learn. For a dictation exercise he titles it ‘Too-Easy Dictation’ and sloppily answers as if he can’t be bothered. The level is so low he could do it with his eyes closed, he says. So at the Parents Meeting when I mentioned that Marc was somewhat bored she waved his exam paper at me, saying ‘Look, he only got 17.5 out of 20!! He can’t even spell Wednesday’. I agreed that Marc makes silly spelling/grammatical mistakes and told her that he is rapidly losing interest in the subject (an emotional issue as this is my language we are talking about). I asked what she could do to help. Madame P. said he could skip the workbook, and ‘help’ the other students. But assisting the beginner-level French students has lost any interest to him and he says he feels uncomfortable ‘teaching’ his classmates. What he needs is spelling and challenging reading, not singing ‘Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes…’

A week later Madame P agrees to give him more written classwork and moves him out for two ‘extra’ language sessions a week, along with the other four fluently bilingual kids in his year, who are also bored and sat sniggering in the back row. After a few hours of intensive study of the passé simple and English grammar exercises they are soon wishing they were back in Easy English again! These extra sessions are thankfully done with an English native teacher, Mrs. G, who is there to support the bilingual kids in their dual language use. She knows all about their unique combination of confident verbal skills and dreadful spelling. He finally has a teacher tuned to his needs and, most importantly, one who always calls him Marc…

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