Many of my students have never met an American, so I didn’t want to teach cliches.
Burgers and fries, big cities and celebrities? They’ve seen enough of that, maybe only that, on TV. I wanted to share what I think of when I think of home.
So rather than trying to introduce the whole country in one go to children who think I regularly hang out with Obama, I took a local approach. There are now dozens of small-town French children learning about float trips, caves, the Gateway Arch, and gooey butter cake.
I’ve explained the term “America’s Heartland” and shown pictures of KC barbecue and played black-and-white YouTube videos of 1920s jazz.
I’ve told them how to say St. Louis with an American accent and shown them a picture of the arch at sunset, city lights glowing against a purple sky. That one always elicits gasps of awe. Mais c’est trop beau!
I’ve shown them a photo of Mizzou’s Jesse Hall and the columns that got the same amazed reaction. A university?! You’d think it was a castle! Does the president live there? When I tell them the enrollment number (30,000 to keep it simple), they think I must be mistaken. Trente-mille ?! One little girl wondered how on earth so many students could fit in that building.
Of course I had to talk about sports, showing a picture of the MU Tigers. Ah oui! Le football américain!
I even talked about armadillos, those prehistoric-looking creatures that now line Missouri roads.
The presentations have gone really well and I am mobbed at recess and in the halls. When they’re not talking to me, trying to impress me by saying a word they know-blue! fish!-or a phrase–my name eez Akim-I hear them talking about me. Mais elle est belle ! Oui, elle est belle. Elle parle anglais ! Elle est anglaise ? Elle vient des États-Unis en fait ! Elle parle français aussi !
They’re kids. And they’re French. So naturally, frankness abounds.
But the attention is enough to make a girl feel like Beyoncé.
At the TAPIF orientation, we were told to always link language with culture, and it makes so much sense now that I see it in action. I get why they brought us here: the kids are naturally curious about us, so we can help translate the enthusiasm about us into enthusiasm about English. We can show them that learning a language is a real, worthy pursuit that goes far beyond scholastic exercises.