We shopped at Rouses Supermarket in Lafayette on el cinquo de mayo (or however it’s spelled). The young cashier–obviously an American in her late teens, student-aged—-made friendly small talk in asking us if we were going to a Cinquo de Mayo party later that evening. I decided to ham it up a little, so I spoke a few random lines of Spanish–it had to be a few, because I’m not fluent in Spanish.
But doggone it, this young lady answered me in Spanish! So I waded in deeper, “Habla usted espanol?” (Do you speak Spanish?).
She replied, laughing, “Oh, No es mucho, es muy pocito” (Oh, not much, it’s very little).
I replied, “Ah, Yo tambien. Yo no hablo mucho. Pero habla usted frances?” (Me to. I don’t speak much Spanish. But do you speak French?”
Her face brightened into an enormous smile: “Mais, oui, je parle français!”
I was astonished! So we took off in earnest conversation. After a few exchanges in the dialogue, I kind of figured it out, so I asked her (in French): “Did you attend a French immersion school?”
The answer, no surprise: “Oui.” SHe explained that she went through the Calcasieu Parish immersion program.
I’ve rarely met teen-aged American kids who were fluent in French. Regrettably, in 28 years of teaching in a hard-core Cajun area of Lousiana, only one of the hundreds and hundreds of the local students I’ve taught could converse in their parents and grandparents’ native tongue. And I taught that student in the late 1980’s—-none since.
But the two American teen-agers I’ve run into in and around Lafayette, Louisiana, in the last couple of years who could converse in French—-this cashier at Rouse’s and a young fellow in a Cajun music jam session spring-before-last—-were both the products of French immersion in public schools.
I’m a believer! If spoken French in Louisiana is to persevere, immersion will play a major role. Regrettably, the students are learning standard as opposed to Louisiana French, but that’s better than no French at all. If they can get the linguistic foundation, there are enough archives now of Louisiana French in recorded media for some of them to study and compare. And, since language evolves whether we like it to evolve or not, language changes anyway. Better to have any kind of French than no French at all.