Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Back to school

"You sound like a French-from-France!"

To most English speakers this would be a compliment, right? Coming from my 11-year-old stepson it is a stab to my heart, a soul-crushing blow, the most scathing of put-downs. Around here the French-from-France don't speak the True French. They are fickle followers of fashion, blithe spirits who do not care for tradition, who do not know the Old Ways. Québécois is the True French. Except when it borrows from English. Or a First Nations language. Or it had to make up a word to describe something unique to the New World. Or it uses the informal "tu" form of address with wild abandon. But let's not get picky now!

To someone who has had exposure to French-from-France—moi, for example—it is also a terrifyingly daunting dialect. Similarly causing, I'm sure, the kind of fear that must strike an English learner when they encounter a Scots accent, a Deep Southern US accent, or a broader-than-broad, closed-mouth, Far North Queensland accent. But here I am in Montréal, having just braved the joual of Témiscamingue, and today I started niveau 3 (level 3) of my cours de francisation.

I'm now at the Centre Saint-Louis, much closer to home after three and a bit months at the Centre Lartigue. These classes are run and heavily subsidised by the Commission scolaire de Montréal, via the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Immigration also offers classes, but after a spectacular fail at fulfilling their own KPIs, I wound up in the care of the Education Minister.

It's an incredible deal: a $70 administration fee per six months, plus $10 per level for the textbook. For that you get 20 hours per week of professional, immersion French classes. As I wrote: incredible!

I won't lie, I have found it very challenging going back to study almost full time. Twenty contact hours of foreign language learning by immersion leaves you pretty shattered for several extra hours on top of that per week. It's not the work per se; I'm doing very well. (Thank you home tutors!) But being a povvo student after years of full-time work is very challenging. My Aries moon is also always very impatient to just get on with things, and I want to master it all NOW, and I want to be back at work NOW! (I'm not saying these are attractive qualities I admire in myself, but it is a personality trait I am constantly battling to overcome.) I am continually taking stock and reminding myself that most of the known universe dreams of "taking a year off to learn French." Reason vs Wonder again!

So, now on my second institution, I am also on my fourth school venue. Some of the buildings have been beautiful—evocative and even anachronistic. Others have been coldly utilitarian. We've seen chalk dust and felt erasers, wall-mounted pencil sharpeners, wall charts and maps, linoleum, and even PCs running Windows XP.

It really feels like I am back at school.

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