I’ve been a second-language teacher for over 25 years. I’ve had this incredible opportunity to teach both English and French as a second language not only because I have a degree in English literature but also because I have an excellent command of both official languages. It's sort of like having two brains. I could never live without this linguistic duality. It encourages me to learn other languages and take a much broader view of our two cultures. As a result, instead of focusing on the differences between the two cultures, I focus on their similarities.
From my perspective, teaching English or French as a second language in Quebec is quite the challenge, because some learners are reluctant to learn the other official language for various reasons. But it’s actually an opportunity to build bridges between the two components of this duality and, in doing so, realize that being bilingual doesn’t threaten cultural identity. On the contrary, bilingualism enriches it. After all, these two languages have been living under the same roof for a long time, for better or worse.
Learning a language isn’t just about learning mechanics
When I first began teaching, I stuck to the textbooks prescribed by the schools where I taught, textbooks that featured the same set of grammatical rules, written exercises and short paragraphs to analyze; in short, the kind of content that’s found in any type of language textbook: a few oral exercises, a few comprehension exercises and, most of the time, nothing very stimulating for the students.
After a few years, I noticed that every time I deviated from the textbook and taught a song or poem or had the students role-play, the class would wake up and come alive. The students seemed more enthusiastic and receptive. I noticed that my interludes not only captured the attention of students young and old but also helped them retain the information.
Language is a window to someone else’s way of thinking
Each language presents a distinct view of the world, a bit like looking at a landscape full of rich and diverse images. For example, in English, you “drink like a fish”; in French, you “drink like a sponge” (boire comme une éponge). In English, you say “it’s raining cats and dogs” (poor animals!); in French, “it’s raining nails” (il pleut des clous) (ouch!). In English, you bend the rule; in French, you go around it (contourner la règle). You might be a bookworm in English, but in French, you’re a “library rat” (un rat de bibliothèque).
So, when teaching either official language, you can incorporate snippets of colourful and humorous information to spark curiosity in your students and put smiles on their faces. This approach also fosters tolerance.
Learning English and French also means knowing your history
After the Norman conquest of 1066, Anglo-Normans borrowed words such as qualité and quantité from Old French. These words later became “quality” and “quantity” in modern English.
In French, the word redingote comes from the English “riding coat,” a coat worn while horseback riding, and the French Canadianism bécosse, which refers to the outdoor latrines of the 19th century, is a deformation of “back house.” Many French expressions, such as à la carte and après-ski, are also used in English.
By spicing up our teaching methods, we connect with our student, and by exploring another person’s language, we end up discovering our own roots.
Translated by: Josephine Versace, Language Portal of Canada
The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.
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Submitted by Louise Carson on April 12, 2021, at 16:28
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Submitted by joanneleclair on April 11, 2022, at 13:23
This depends on whether you want to teach in Quebec or not. There is a huge need for French teachers at all levels in Quebec. However, with a degree in ESL you can teach pretty much anywhere on the planet. Blog team /on behalf of Julie de Belle.
Submitted by Loubna on May 7, 2022, at 11:28