In chemistry class with Véronique Moussez, I no longer find the molar mass of copper on the periodic table: instead, I check le tableau périodique pour la masse molaire atomique du cuivre. It’s been a regular occurrence since the last week of October, where our latest assignment was handed to us alongside a model of the periodic table written entirely in French: it’s got or instead of gold, l’étain instead of tin, and le plomb instead of lead. Nowadays, we barely blink at the handouts: It’s an accepted way to learn our word of the day, an oft-requested feature since one particularly memorable class midway through the semester where we first requested the word for chemistry: chimie.
If my chemistry class is any indication for sample size, we’ve got a large group of students that are brand new to the language and a few who even have some level of French experience. And every single one of us is ready and eager to learn—in fact, we’ve been keen enough on learning that Veronique has been forced to placate us with the French periodic table.
So it’s somewhat baffling that, despite enthusiasm from students and faculty who speak the language, Nueva has never offered a French program. We have a handful of fluent teachers, and the student body includes not only students who have studied the language before in middle school, but also those who have a vested interest in learning something new from scratch.
Nueva’s lack of a French class is symbolic of its growing pains as it becomes a “proper” high school, just as it also has to contend with sports teams jostling for space in the gym and lunch lines elongating.
The lack of a French class in a school that offers, for example, a rich and deep-rooted Japanese program, is perplexing in and of itself. And since the appeal of the Japanese courses at Nueva are rooted in a structure focused on a wealth of cultural immersion and exploration, the number of French-speaking members of the community means that the same approach could be replicated. Nor should French’s practical side be ignored: French is the second-most widely spoken language in Europe; is an official language of not only Canada, but 26 African nations; and is the fourth most widely-spoken language in the US, after English, Spanish, and Mandarin. Not to mention that French culture has plenty of interesting facets, and also boasts the advantage of being spoken widely enough that various different cultures can be explored (Creole French in Louisiana, anyone?).
A French class is, after all, something that many high schools offer (along with enough office space for the entirety of the faculty and actual sports facilities): It’s the second most widely taught language in the US, and a course offered at many Bay Area high schools—Crystal, Lick, Urban, Menlo, and so on—that Nueva competes with when it comes to attracting students. And though we’re working on the former and are making do without the latter, I believe that the lack of these typically “core” classes and programs are what will ultimately hold Nueva back as it expands.
So talk to your friends. Mention it to your teachers. Email Dan. We all just really, really want to be able to speak the language where you call lead le plomb.
Written by Callisto L.