Trip Start Sep 26, 2011
22Trip End May 06, 2012
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Before my first class, I wait outside in the courtyard, as all the children in my first class line-up. Then together we walk in, up the stairs and to their classroom. Behind me I can hear giggles, and whispering as all the students stare in bewilderment at this "new, foreign person".
"C'est elle!" "Elle est la!"
Immediately, I hear from those who are brave enough, "Hello! Hi!". And once we enter the classroom, those who know even more English starting shouting out anything they know: "How are you?" "What's your name?"
Most of my classes knew where America was, though I had a younger class take a considerable amount of time, guessing on a map. The closest they got was Canada before the teacher intervened. Furthermore, to make it easier on myself and on the students, I tell everyone I am from Chicago or "She-ka-go". And that my name is "A-li-sa" like "Ali +sa". It is easier for them to pronounce my name utilizing French sounds because "Alyssa" with the "y" sound in English is hard for them to pronounce.
Many of the activities for my first two days in the schools, included songs and asking simple questions. For example, "What's your name? My name is ____". Now imagine repeating that to every student in the classroom, individually, about 2-3 times for practice and pronunciation. Patience is a virtue you must have, otherwise you aren't going to last long. Other activities including counting numbers. In the French culture, you begin counting with your thumb, then pointer finger and so on. Therefore, in all my classes, we counted starting with the thumb, except an older teacher named, Claude. He insisted on teaching his students the English way of counting, beginning with the index finger. I understand his motivation for wanting the children to be integrated into learning the English way, but you wouldn't believe how difficult it is for a young student to see numbers differently, because when they see me raise my index finger, to them it is "2" but for me "1".
Additionally, the "H" is silent in French culture. For example, ''Victor Hugo'' is ''Victor Ugo''. Therefore when it comes to words containing the letter "H", pronunciation can be not only difficult for the children, but for the teacher as well. In Claude's class, as we were counting numbers, we went through one number at a time for perfect pronunciation.
Claude: "No, no. It is not a "tree" an "arbre", it is the number "tree"!!"
So, yes, even for the teachers, pronunciation is key. And that is one of the main issues, I am only with these children 1 or 2 times a week, therefore for a majority of their English lessons, they may be hearing the incorrect pronunciation for words. And bringing to light a personal revelation, I can see a similar problem in foreign language instruction in America. If teachers are not perfectly pronouncing words for their students, then when it comes for the students to utilize that French in the real world, a language barrier will start immediately.
I've already noticed a huge improvement between my time in Paris, before taking Phonetics of French and my time here. It is amazing how the littlest change in pitch, fluidity of words, or emphasis on sound can change the relationship you can have with someone from another culture.