French: A Lifelong Language Struggle (by Dairn Alexandre)

Kananaskis in Red (original artwork by the author)

Dairn Alexandre (a pseudonym) is a regular BILD guest blogger; for more information about Dairn, and to read his earlier posts, click here. Dairn has taught in Quebec and now works as a teacher in Alberta, where he lives with his wife, two kids, and dog.

My relationship with the French language has historically been problematic.

Even during my early years as an Anglophone kid in the English schooling system in Quebec, I had a series of seemingly ineffective and incompetent French teachers. This skewed how I perceived the subject, since I found little to no success in those formative years of learning the language. Eventually, my mother was my French teacher in grade 4, which made dinnertime conversation about our day at school awkward. By that point in time my lack of success with the subject coupled with my growing frustration with trying to catch up with the other students in my class made me resent learning a second language altogether. It was really tough to make any headway when everyone else seemed to be learning so effortlessly. 

In an attempt to not fail her youngest child – the only one of her three children that she would ever teach in her 30-year career – my mother tried to support me in my studies both at school and at home as best as she could. Except that language was something that needed to be acquired slowly over time, not intensively drilled into someone over the span of one year. And even though the professional and ethical thing to do as my teacher would have been to fail me, my mother just couldn’t bring herself to do it. This would have likely resulted in me having to repeat grade 4, since French is a required course in Quebec and failure was certainly a possibility for Quebec students in the ‘90s. Not only that, I needed a certain level of French proficiency in order to graduate high school. I realized early on that there was no way I was going to be able to do any of this. I barely eked by, getting marks that always teetered on the brink between passing and failing. I rationalized that learning French didn’t matter to me. I had decided early on that I was not going to live in Quebec, so learning French had no utility for me whatsoever. Ultimately, my goal was to survive and then move as far away from Quebec as fast as I could. 

And I almost succeeded. Until the day that I didn’t.

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My new journey of de-learning and re-learning in the Grand Nord (by Dr. Sunny Lau)

When I first learned about the history of residential schools and how the children had been severed from their communities, language, and culture, I felt a kind of kinship with the Indigenous peoples. Growing up in colonial Hong Kong, I understand, to a certain degree, what it is like to not feel a sense of belonging or to have to speak and excel in a language other than my own. Of course, none of my colonial experience could compare to the abuses and cultural genocide that Indigenous peoples have endured. 

I have recently had the privilege of working with some pedagogical consultants in the ᓄᓇᕕᒃ Nunavik to explore teaching and learning in a context involving multiple languages. As an external consultant, I treaded with much reverence and care, keeping my eyes, ears, and heart open to voices and silences and to alternative perspectives and worldviews. As McGrath (2018) reminds us, “knowledge is relational and therefore knowledge renewal is relationship renewal” (p. 313). Relationship is not only with people but also land to see how selves are intertwined with and constituting each other as well as knowledge.

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What is language (to me)? (by Dr Meike Wernicke)

Meike Wernicke, our guest blogger this week, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia. Her research focuses on French second language teacher education, multilingualism, and critical intercultural studies, and draws on critical perspectives and decolonizing approaches.

This blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

I come to this question as a multilingual white immigrant settler in Canada, as a language teacher educator and researcher working on ancestral, traditional, and unceeded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm territory, as someone whose language practices include primarily colonial languages originating in a European context. My knowledge and use of German, English, French, and occasionally very neglected Spanish, have been and continue to be shaped by my personal experiences and relationships yet also by the history, practices, and the different values associated with these constructed languages. In other words, the knowledge and use of language means different things to different people and directly connects to the cultural and social meanings in our societies more generally.

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Haiti—Where Theory Meets Reality (by Dr Caroline Riches)

Haiti, it seems, is not a common destination, as people express an element of surprise and curiosity when I share that I have visited there. I have the privilege of being part of a project that involves research and professional development work with in-service English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers in Haiti. The story of how I got to be involved with this work in Haiti will have to be told another time, but suffice it to say that it has exposed me to a completely other world. Continue reading

Acquisition, Learning, and Translanguaging (by Melissa Enns)

I’ve recently been giving a lot of thought to ‘acquisition’ versus ‘learning’ of a second (or subsequent) language. In brief, the difference is related to communicative competence versus “explicit rule-based grammar teaching” (Lightbown & Spada, 2013, p. 193). (For more on the distinction, click here). In my mind, acquisition is perhaps the longer-lasting state or the point at which conscious rule-based practice becomes automatic communication, as in Skill Acquisition Theory.

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