By Judith L. (Thomas) Born ’61
I was fascinated by my mom and aunt speaking Finnish and frustrated that my small high school offered only “dead” Latin. Finally, in my senior year, French was offered. The teacher was more interested in the chemistry teacher than in teaching French, but my determination to learn a spoken language grew, and I decided to major in French in college.
Fast-forward one year. A five-foot tall, 98 pound NMU freshman, I entered her classroom. She sat behind a massive desk, and then she stood up—all 6'2” of her. “Bonjour, Mademoiselle,” my chattering teeth managed to articulate. “Entrez et bienvenue à ma sale de classe,” she said softly with a lovely smile.
However, underneath that soft exterior was a “Professeur Extraordinaire.” She demanded perfection on written work, taking off points for every error—with one exception. On the oral portions of the test, if we communicated, we got an A.
I clearly remember her saying, “Two year olds don’t speak perfect English, but they can be very clear about what they want or need, n’est ce pas? Use expression, volume, gestures, anything you can think of, to communicate.
I remember one time I "communicated" that I had eaten waffles with butter and a condom for breakfast. She did not bat an eye as she explained that preservatif does not mean “jam” in French. But she got what I meant, and I got an A.
She was my critic-teacher for student teaching. Sometimes I hated her; I learned to swear in French.
“An hour of preparation for each hour you teach.”
“What would you do if… ?”
“How do you plan to… ?”
And so on.
But her most important message was that a student must never leave her classroom saying, “I took four years of conversational French and I can’t speak a word of it.”
It was a lesson I learned well. For over thirty years, my students milled around my classroom for 15-20 minutes daily, speaking French to each other. I praised, threatened and/or bribed them. They weren’t fluent, but, like any two year old, they could make their wants and needs known.
Merci, mille fois, Mademoiselle Flora Loubert.