And the Rest Is History
Learning a language in and of itself is assez difficule, but I am a firm believer that it is equally important to learn the culture of the people who speak it. First and foremost, the way that people speak to each other in different parts of the world is very different. Some things that might be acceptable topics of conversation in your own language might be highly offensive to someone from another country. For example, the menstrual cycle is a taboo in a large number of areas, but my girlfriends and I share every cramp and chocolate binge with each other sans probléme. It is perfectly acceptable for me to say “I am excited” in English when I am looking forward to doing something, but the French equivalent, Je suis excité(e) can imply that you are sexually aroused.
So, of course it a very important aspect of the verbally spoken word, but it is also a really great opportunity to open a discussion about how different countries (or even just different people for that matter) have different beliefs, preferences, rituals and so on. And that is (ninety percent of the time) A-Ok.
Norway has more athiests than believers, the opposite of America. In France, dogs are welcomed in most places, even restaurants. In Greece, spitting is actually done ceremoniously, even in weddings!
But, the thing that I like the most though is learning about cultural norms like La Bise (the infamous French cheek kiss) and the history behind famous sites, people and traditions. This can be super interactive for children. You can find endless streams of videos on historical monuments and figures online aimed at kids. We watched one recently on Picazzo before doing self-portraits inspired by his work. Because, while he was Spanish, he spent most of his adult life in France. Here is our finished projects in the book we made for “famous people.”
Truthfully though, I can’t say that I am entertained by history lessons per say, and I forget a good chunk of really interesting information that I would love to retain, but I have a soft spot for anything crafty. So, of course, I was thrilled when my son’s teacher invited me to teach the Kindergartners and 1st graders about Paris. I got to show off my French skills (because let’s be real, 6-8 year olds are thrilled if you can say a few words and tell them how to greet each other) and learn a few things myself. For example, the French engineer, Gustave Eiffel, was the designer of the Eiffel Tower (Le Tour Eiffel) and parts of the Statue of Liberty!
I was the hero of that classroom for the morning. I brought croissants with imported French cheese. As you know as a parent, you might as well have given a child the keys to a new Ferrari if you bring food at school. Then, I led them through an Eiffel Tower craft while I talked about its history and taught them some French words. Of course, they couldn’t have cared less if it the cheese was Velveeta, but I was dang proud that I had tracked down imported cheese and could teach them the french word for it (fromage.)
Weeks later, Bryston was still telling people that “the Eiffel Tower was never supposed to be a forever thing” and “a lot of people thought it was really ugly.” Now, I will never forget these facts either! Is he going to memorize dates and names? Probably not (although, he does have a frighteningly good memory.) But, I like to believe that he is a little more cultured now. Plus, it is just adorable when he wants to faire la bise every time we see each other. Believe it or not, these things only further inspired his passion for the language. Because, instead of memorizing vocabulary lists or trying to struggle through the pronunciation of a new phrase, it became something tangible. The French people became more real for him, he picked up words in the target language along the way and it was a fun afternoon, just maman and loulou.