I’m sure excited about going to Africa to visit Lydia and Jo’s foster kids. I e-mailed her last week with some questions, such as the ages of the children and whether coffee will be available in Senegal. If the answer to that last one was no, I’d have to start weaning myself off the stuff.
Almost as an afterthought, I asked if the kids speak English. Here was Lydia’s response:
“In Senegal, French is the most spoken language, though a few people speak English due to the nearness of Gambia.”
A few days ago, I’d seen a video of one of the kids. He was speaking French. And soon I will too. I have the remnants of high school French but the rust is huge.
Jody and I went to Quebec City in 2008 to enjoy the music, the food and the ancient buildings. The vacation, however, came to be about local people and my efforts to communicate in their language. I had a marvelous time, and virtually every Quebeçois was kind to us, throwing in some good natured laughter as I decimated the grammar and vocabulary. Senegal can be the same!
Yesterday, in French class, I told Madame and the kids about my dilemma: I have three weeks and a few days to get good at French. Any ideas?
As the students got back to work, a girl approached me. “Have you heard of Duolingo, Mr. Kerr?” > “Nope” > “It’ll teach you French.” > “All right, I’ll give it a try.”
I downloaded the app on my phone, did some registering things, and was faced with a choice: either I don’t know any French or I know some. Okay, “some”. The program would do a pretest with me, to see where they should start my studies. As I pondered question number one, a few kids gathered around me, watching for my success or lack thereof. Actually they were cheering me on.
“Translate ‘a man and a boy’ into French.” I got to work, with lots of coaching coming from the left and right. “Un homme et un garçon” > “You are correct” flashed on the screen. Muted cheering from the peanut gallery (and from me). We were off … question after question appeared and I (we) did pretty well.
The whole darn thing was fun, especially the kid participation part.
Okay. That’s enough for today. Now back to my French homework. I sense bilingualism hanging out just beyond the horizon.