Editor’s Desk: Should have studied French

Volume 50, Issue 12: Editor’s Desk


“Hurry up with my damn croissants.” – Kanye West

I dominated high school Spanish classes. From Grades 9 to 11, I was a complete maverick in the popular language elective. So good that my classmates often thought that I was already fluent in the language. Some believed I was Hispanic. It was hard to blame them for thinking that I came from a Hispanic background – my full name, Carlo Miguel Javier, probably gave them that impression.

Because of the 300+ years of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines, much of the Spanish language has become part of the Filipino lexicon, and while there are two national languages in the Philippines – Tagalog and English – Spanish vocabulary remains a prominent part of the dialogue. This is why I was so good in my first three years of high school Spanish. I knew what most of the words meant, and by knowing the vocabulary, I was able to excel in putting phrases and sentences together. In Spanish 9, our teacher
went through the class, head-by-head, making everyone collectively count up to 100. I remember being able to do that shit all by myself, and faster too.

Like any story about greatness, downfall ultimately and inevitably follows. We see it all the time, Batman lost to Bane and was left (temporarily) trapped in The Pit, Taylor Swift got petty and Kanye got louder. The only difference between the aforementioned heroes and myself is that they, more or less, came back from defeat. I didn’t.

I sucked in Spanish 12. Students who take the class in its eventual fourth year tend to have a pretty good comprehension of the language and its complexities. Although I was certainly still confident in my supreme vocabulary, the nuances regarding conjugation, tenses and overall technical grammar had passed me by. For three years I coasted on a
singular talent – everyone else worked, caught up and eventually surpassed me. For the record, I didn’t fail Spanish 12, I did a solid job in the course, but my perch at the top was no longer mine to claim.

Years later, I realized that my biggest mistake in high school language classes was not that I barely tried in Spanish. It was that I took Spanish when I should have taken French. Like most of the things students learn from Canada’s high school curriculum, the lessons I learned in Spanish classes have been all but useless to me since. Nothing ill against the Spanish language, but you just don’t see people going around saying hola to one another.

While I can’t ever know for sure, having a better grasp of the French language likely would have been more useful for me than Spanish. For one, I could visit the wonderful city of Montreal and brag about how I have some semblance of understanding of French.

Two, I actually live right at the heart of Maillardville, the largest Francophone community west of Manitoba. I even went to a French middle school! In retrospect, it is a regret that I didn’t pursue French studies in my high school years. Although some will tell me that it’s
never too late to learn, I have already missed out on the unbeatable classroom experience that I could have had years ago. More saddening is the understanding that I took Spanish in high school because it was the easy way out.

In this issue, our features editor, Helen Aikenhead, looks at the state of French immersion programs in BC. In her research, she concludes that while constant cuts to education have hampered the programs, one important factor has kept Canada’s official second language alive in the West: culture.

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