One of my classes in Aulnay-Sous-Bois has a partner class stateside. The French teacher is one of my best friends and when we realized our classes were the same age, we set up a letter swap. Both classes were given the same assignment: write one simple letter in the language you are learning, and then one letter in your native tongue where you could say whatever you wanted. This way, both classes would have a chance to practice writing the opposite language, and trying to translate something written by their peers. The results were not surprising. My little French students wrote perfectly penned and spaced letters on neat graph paper with headings carefully underlined in red. The French may refuse to wait in line or follow most rules, but they forsake this rebellious streak when confronted with graph paper and red pens. Though I emphasized that they could say whatever they wanted in their second letter, the one written in French, almost every child merely provided a translation of their simple letter in English. A few embellished it with things like, “My teacher is super nice – is yours?,” but for the most part, they strayed little from the specifically stated exercise. In the French elementary schools, deviation is detrimental, not creative.
When I opened the packet of letters from the American kids, written on neon colored index cards, which pleased my students to no end, I laughed aloud at the differences. They too had carefully penned short letters in French. Yet in their English letters, they had taken the prompt seriously – you can write whatever you want. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“I had a freak air-soft fight with my brother. I shot him right in the head. He went running all over when I was shooting. An air-soft gun is a gun that shoots plastic bullets. I shot a bird and it blew up.”
“For Lunch I ate prosciutto, cheese, and French bread.”
“Hi. I got three new cats last weekend . . . They are fat cats but they are cute. I went to our neighbor’s house and there were two horses that I wanted to buy. I had to kick three chickens because they were jumping on me so you have to kick them.”
“My favorite food is boneless buffalo wings. They are not really buffalo, they are chicken.”
“One day I shot a bird in the head and you could see the brain.”
“It is loud in my classroom. Augustine is talking about cheese. Diego is talking about shooting a bird. Diego scares me. Ariana scared Zach.”
And my favorite, because I love that he was inspired to say this, though I am not surprised, given the other stories: “I have killed no animals in my entire life.”
Needless to say, my French kids think that our American partner class is exceedingly cool, though they may be a little frightened.