The name of the town I live in and my husband's last name are spelled the same backwards and forwards. Yes, I know there's a word for that. But one of the longterm effects of living here is that my English is now crap. I don't make syntax errors or speak like Van Damme or have a lost look in my eyes while I search for basic English words. But I have lost vocabulary. I swear, for every new French word I've learned over the past 8 years, I've lost an English one. Now, mind you, I haven't lost any really important or useful ones but, at certain times, I feel like my useless college degrees are a big lie. Seriously, I have a degree in linguistics and I'm afraid to admit it.
Another one of the degrees was in applied linguistics. I learned all about second language acquistion and teaching esl. You would have thought that one wouldn've been really useful here. No. I've gotten jobs here teaching English not because I had a degree saying I was qualified to do so, but simply because I'm American. The French have an extraordinary amount of faith in native speakers. It's like we're born qualified to teach. Never mind pedagogy, never mind language acquisition theories, never mind training. Up until this year, I only felt the positive effects of this attitude. Things recently changed and I discovered that there's a hierarchy governing us native speakers living in France - in the academic sphere at any rate.
In the fall, I decided to volunteer at my son's school. I mentioned to the director that I would be willing to give an hour a week of English fun and games or instruction or both if they were interested. He smiled and said thank you and never followed up. No big deal. I mentioned it to a few of the moms I see when we pick them up for lunch. They all seemed very enthusiastic and said they would follow up with the diretor. Nothing happened. Finally, I mentioned it to a mom who is also a teacher at the school. She said she would love to have me in her class once a week and could we start as soon as possible. So we did. At the next staff meeting, F announced our collaboration to her colleagues and the director's attitude (as well of that of all the other teachers) was revealed. I don't speak the most desireable variety of English. It would seem that, unless you're from the United Kingdom, your English isn't really English. It's just a pale imitation that will, if passed on to poor, unsuspecting 3rd graders, cause more trouble than it's worth.
Fast forward to the new school we're sending both boys to in the fall. We visited it and met all the staff last weekend. When some of the teachers heard me speaking américain to the boys, they all jumped up with questions. Where are you from? Are they bilingual? Oh you're American, how wonderful, would you consider helping us teach English in class? Apparently when you're the only native speaker around willing to work for free, you get a free promtion up the hierarchy.