My sixth grader casually mentioned the other day that he’s decided on the language he wants to take next year: French. Grafton Middle School offers a quarter of French and a quarter of Spanish to all its sixth grade students; in seventh grade, they choose which language they will learn.
My son did well in his French quarter but has yet to tackle Spanish. He told me his friends who are taking Spanish told him it was too hard. It was on this less-than-stellar review that he was basing his language choice.
My husband and I, who between us have roughly eight years of high school and college French, spoke as one: sorry, kid, you’re taking Spanish.
“And Mandarin when you get to high school,” my husband added.
It’s really nothing personal against the French. I’ve just never found the language especially helpful, save for one visit to Quebec (and, even then, I failed to put my translation skills to good use until I was halfway up the stairs of Mont Royal. “Mont is mountain!” I wailed to my now-husband. “These aren’t just stairs to a good view! We’re climbing a mountain!”). Not in Boston, where my sophomore roommate was from Peru and Spanish-speakers were in high demand at various temp jobs. Not in Marlborough or Framingham, where an influx of Brazilian immigrants would have made Spanish — so close to Portuguese! — an asset when covering the communities.
When I was in seventh grade and choosing a language for high school, the choice was spelled out to me: the smart kids took French, the not-quite-so-smart took Spanish. Oh, you could take Italian if you had that background or German if you were so inclined (of course, the passage of Prop. 2 1/2 would soon eliminate those options), but I was an honors-track kid. I took French.
Le langage est source de malentendus.
Oh, have I mentioned the one part of French class I took away with me? I can still remember large swaths of “Le Petit Prince,” the child’s story our substitute French teacher (an ex-nun) gave us when she realized the roman policier my class was avidly translating contained mild sex and bad language. Looking back, I think my original French teacher was brilliant — we were racing through that sexy mystery. Our major takeaway from “Le Petit Prince” were yearbook quotations for the pretentious (Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux).
Le langage est source de malentendus. Language is the source of misunderstandings. My son was in a snit for most of the weekend, in part because of the course selection form he carried to school this morning. We’re requesting that he be placed in Spanish; he’s continuing with band for another year.
“I’m going to be the only one taking Spanish!” he says.
Les enfants seuls savent ce qu’ils cherchent. But in this case, it’s the parents who realize what he should be looking for is a language he’s actually going to use.