NSHSS Educator of Distinction Debbie McCorkle Leads Student Trip to France

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

As a World Language teacher in Ohio, making the case for second language acquisition is tough. Ohio graduation requirements do not include the study of World Languages at all. So, for 28 years, I’ve been trying to dangle the elusive carrot, a French one, in front of my students. Why should a student who lives in rural south central Ohio, in a school with nearly 60% of the students eligible for free lunch, study a World Language? Why? To travel to France, of course! 

Every summer I travel with my students to France. This is my routine and the administration, faculty, students and families are familiar with it. So, sometimes for years, pennies are saved, grandparents are accosted, yard sales are held and we go. Our goals are to speak French, practice the skills we learned in class and to be independent.

Students must have completed three years of French before traveling abroad. After three years, students can function abroad, well, let’s say they can survive. I ensure that my curriculum includes tourist survival skills in terms of language functions and cultural awareness.

Any normal French curriculum can include travel skills. But, teaching one unit on this topic is not enough. Introducing, reviewing and recycling must occur at all levels. Anytime that I can tie any lesson into travel skills, I do.

In terms of language use student preparation is practical. What language do I need to travel? I try to think of what scenarios a student might encounter once or day-to-day on our trip. Here’s what we do.

From the beginning students are practicing what they might hear and say to the passport control officer or the customs official at the border crossing by simply understanding questions about name and age.

Students can order and pay for food. Due to study in the classroom, they are familiar with what they might find on a cafe menu. Students have the vocabulary and the questions words which enable them to ask for a fork if they drop one of the floor.  They understand the Euro and we study cafe etiquette.  For example, they know how greet the waiter and allow him/her to direct them to a seat, not just seat down anywhere.

Also, students become familiar with the subway system, let’s say for example, in Paris. They understand how to acquire tickets, navigate from one place on the map to another and how enter and exit the subway like the French: do not use football line-of-scrimage tactics to get through the doorway. They know to stand to the side and allow people to exit first before they enter.

Because we tend to stay in hotels, students know the expressions for items in their room: sink, toilet, towels, sheets, blankets. But what if they need a towel? What if they lose their room key? Because we have introduced, reviewed, recycled and practiced, students can independently use their second language to get what they need.

Our trips are educational. Students visit cultural and historical monuments. These visits require a bit of preparation. For some, French class is the first occasion in which these places have ever been mentioned. Trying to not spoil the experience of seeing and learning about a new place, we go with the basics about a place what is it? who built it? why was it built? and then I let the students flesh out their knowledge on site. We might learn a bit about Paris every year for the three years of required study. Part of traveling is not knowing everything about a place before you go. There’s lots to be said about discovery.

Another experience students encounter is purchasing gifts for their loved ones. This, for some, is a time-consuming activity. So, armed with their knowledge of how to behave in a shop, students make purchases for parents, siblings, grandparents, pets….you get my drift. I have also armed my students with the knowledge of bargaining which is an alien activity in the United States. For some bargaining is a scary proposition, for others, the goal of their day is to purchase as many mini-whatevers for 1 euro from the street vendors as they can. One of my biggest joys is to see their shining eyes and their hands full of gifts.  My job is done.

What starts out as a way to entice students to study a World Language becomes a vehicle for cultural understanding and independence...even if we have to go home with a suitcase full of mini-whatevers!

Debbie McCorkle
Unioto High School
Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction