Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Qu'est-ce que c'est Thanksgiving?

My teaching in France has been a far cry from teaching high school English. I feel like I'm only just now starting to actually teach, and I've been here for nearly two months!

During the first few weeks, I introduced myself and observed each of the different classes for about an hour. I'm working in nine classrooms in three different schools, so there is a lot of variety in classroom behavior and English proficiency. For example, at one of the schools there are several kids from American and British families and even though I'm used to working with bilingual kids at the ISA, I'm still blown away by a child's ability to master languages. However, in other classes, it's a struggle just to get them to distinguish between the French pronunciation of spider (since they know Spiderman) and the English pronunciation of spider. They struggle with the long 'i' sound and have the typical francophone tendency to put more emphasis on the last syllable of a word, so the English pronunciation of spider becomes 'spee-DAIR.' They're making some progress, but there's only so much I can do when I'm only in the classroom for an hour, thirty minutes with one group and then thirty minutes with another.

images via pinterest

Most of my lessons so far have revolved around Halloween. After teaching the same two or three lessons nine times over the course of three weeks, I am so burned out on Halloween! The French have started celebrating the holiday over the past ten years or so, but their schema of Halloween costumes is limited to the scary. When I showed the two kids from my host family some of the typical kid Halloween costumes, their reactions were quite hilarious: "C’est nul, ça!" roughly translating to "Well that's useless/What's the point of that?" Why wear a princess or superhero costume when Halloween is supposed to be scary? However, I learned that the French dress up in costumes during the Carnival season before Mardi Gras, so there you have it.

Thanksgiving is an entirely different matter. The kids and the teachers know next to nothing about the history and traditions, so I've had the rough task of historian thrust on me. Luckily I brought along a couple of books with illustrations that have helped me to explain pilgrims, the Mayflower, the New World, Squanto, etc. A few of the sharper kids have asked me why the pilgrims and Native Americans are friends in the story of Thanksgiving when they actually fight and kill each other -- that hypocrisy is hard enough to explain in English already, but I'm doing the best I can. 

Me circa 1994 (?) -- An elementary Thanksgiving
Talking about the current Thanksgiving traditions has been more lighthearted. Everyone loves to discuss food, but apparently pumpkin pie is not a typical dessert. I showed them a picture of a pumpkin pie and had them guess what kind of pie it was.

- Tarte aux pommes?
- Tarte au citron?
- Des mandarines?
- Des abricots?
- Tarte aux cérises?

They know not the deliciousness of all things pumpkin-flavored, peuchères

I'm going to have some Thanksgiving desserts with the American family on Wednesday and hopefully have a Thanksgiving get-together with the other language assistants in Pierrelatte. I wish I could have some of Mimi's delicious mashed potatoes too, but that will have to wait.

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