French and me

From time to time in my writing on language acquisition I mention that it was my facility with French that convinced me Krashen is right and acquired language outstrips learned language. The well was poisoned by my taking 2 years of high school French. I was an avid student and I love grammar, so the grammar people will swear it was the grammar that led to my facility.
Be that as it may, it was only after starting to teach fl that I noticed that it was my French that flowed out of my mouth without conscious thought. That was in contrast to Russian, whose grammar I had studied assiduously for decades or Spanish, which I had used in my work for decades. I would have though either or both would have been my “fluent” language.
So what happened?
In my senior year of high school, after my two years of French, I met a young woman, quite senior to me by almost 10 years, who did things with me that would have got her arrested today. It was pretty innocent but did involve some extended sessions in her bedroom. She spoke no English. We went together for some time and so my French was pressed into service.
At about the same time, I met a Frenchman who wanted to teach judo. It so happened my school ROTC program needed a judo instructor, so I got him the job. He then informed me I would have to translate for him. I did not feel I knew enough but my French was, once again, pressed into service. That year in high school I used French a great deal.
After that, I did not pursue French any more. Several incidents told me my French remained. At this point I should say that by the measures often used, my French lacked a lot, that is, breadth and depth; I had a relatively narrow vocabulary and was unaware of a good deal of the French language. What I did have was, in Spanish, soltura, a looseness and confidence in expressing myself and, apparently, a good pronunciation.
One incident came when some Portuguese teachers came to our district and I volunteered my home to lodge one of them They spoke no English but did speak French and so I began talking to them. I was notorious in my district for teaching Russian and it surprised my fellow teachers that I spoke French. They suggested I start teaching it and I told them I had no college credits in French. My grandson’s karate class took on a student whose parents were French-Canadian and they always preferred speaking French with me.
When I substitute taught for one year, I would be assigned to fl classes when teachers found out I could teach their lessons. The French classes were fun b/c the students often had heard little French in their classes and were delighted when I spoke to them at what I determined was their general i + 1 level.
I took a graduate course in French in which I chose to write on French West African literature. I had no trouble following the professor in class, although I cheated on the books by obtaining copies in English. Nevertheless, I did read them all in French and did well in the class.
So things like that happen all the time. I’m reading Proust now and find I comprehend it OK. I am sure I don’t savor the depth of the language. I recall a graduate student at UCLA I talked to, an American, who said the classes were extremely difficult b/c his classmates were mostly native speakers. Nevertheless, I enjoy my reading.
I hope this gives you some idea of why I fall back on my French experience as evidence for the truth of the comprehensible input model of language acquisition and the validity of the learning/acquisition dichotomy in Krashen’s theory. Without Margie and Maurice, my French would be where my German is after five semesters in college.

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