Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Taking Off the Training Wheels

We spent last week in Disney World celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary with our family.  The girls had been counting down the days--all 289 of them--since we booked the trip and they were beside themselves with excitement for each day's planned activities.

Except for one.

They weren't overjoyed for Epcot day since there aren't as many rides and they are forced to saunter along while the grownups check out the different "countries" at a leisurely pace.  I tried to liven things up for them with the promise of going to the France Pavillion. "It will be fun! We'll buy a souvenir for Clèmentine and there will be employees there who speak French!"

They weren't buying in. 

By the time we got to France, much later in the evening than we'd hoped, the girls were exhausted and disinterested.  They didn't want to go into the shops. They didn't care about the Eiffel Tower or the simulated Parisian streets. They didn't want to eat at the restaurants or dip into the parfumerie. They wanted to go back to the hotel and go to bed.

Just when I had given up on seeing the fireworks, we rounded a corner and ran into  a crêpes stand. In a last ditch effort to load the girls up with enough sugar to make it through until 10 p.m., I sent the little ones to a table with their cousins while Brontë, my husband, and I hit the crêpes stand. Waiting our turn, I noticed the name tag worn by the girl working the crepe stand. It read "Lilian" and underneath that "Grenoble." 

I turned to Brontë. "This girl is from France.  You should place our order in French."

She agreed immediately.

When it was our turn, we moved up to the window.  Lilian looked to me and I pointed down to Brontë whose head was barely higher than the counter.

"What would you like?" Lilian asked her.

"Bonjour. Comment ça va?"  My daughter looked nervous, but she spoke up loudly enough to be heard over the surrounding clamor of the other passing tourists.

Lilian leaned forward and lowered her head so she was eye-level with Brontë. She asked Brontë her name in French, though she didn't say "Comment t'appelle tu" as we are used to; her syntax was a bit different. But Brontë heard "appelle" and figured out what she meant.

"Brontë.  I mean--Je m'appelle Brontë," she answered, remembering to use a complete sentence as she must in her Language Stars class.

Lilian asked how old she was and Brontë dutifully answered "J'ai neuf ans."

People were starting to line up behind us, so I nudged Brontë to go ahead and order.  

"Je voudrais deux crêpes chocolat, s'il vous plait."

Lilian obliged and began making our crêpes, asking Brontë if she was learning French in school and Brontë told her that we take French classes each week. When Lilian told us our total (and I thought "Mon Dieu!"), Anthony handed her the money to pay and we started to leave.

"Bon soir!" Lilian called after us. "Keep studying your French. It is very good!"

"Merci! Au revoir!" Brontë answered. 

Her nervousness melted away and a big smile broke out on her face.  She had done it! She had ordered in French and made a little bit of conversation, not with me or with Clèmentine--both of us would have been encouraging no matter how well or how poorly she had done--but with a stranger who had no vested interest in her, no obligation to be supportive or even play along or prolong the conversation by asking questions. 

I had been worried when we started Language Stars that Brontë and Chloë (9 and 7) had already missed the critical window to start learning another language. Frankly, it has been their 5 year old sister who seems to be absorbing the information more naturally. But this little encounter proved me wrong. The little one may be quicker at absorbing what she's learning in French class, but it is her big sister who has gained the confidence to test herself and venture out on her own.


Katie said...

HOORAY for French! Mssr Jones would be so proud.

Renee said...

Oh, Mssr. Jones! What great times we had in that class. Thanks for the reminder! :)

Erin said...