Is “correct my French, SVP” carved on my forehead?

08 Jul

SVP: is the abbreviated, formal French phrase for 'please' (s'il vous plaît), used often on public signage

Let’s face it, no one LIKES to be corrected; we just try to stay open to it because it’s for our own good, right? Well, for many years, I have been open to being corrected. It was a long hard road, but I can honestly say, I don’t mind (not to be confused with like) correction. No matter the subject, I seem to be one of those people whom others feel a need (or is compulsion a better description?) to correct. Is it because I am constantly screwing things up and they take pity on me? It’s possible. Is it because I seem open to correction, that people are free to dole out the “you mean…” and “you should have said…” comments? Or is it because my past is coming back to haunt me after all the times I’ve corrected others, oblivious to the damage I was inflicting? Now, there’s a stark realization! My father always said I had a ‘noggin (southernese for head)’ made of wood, but I never thought the expression would have such literal impact (gee, thanks dad!).

OK, I readily admit, I was a ‘chronic corrector.’ My parents did it to me, so by golly, I should pass it on! After all, it really is in their best interest in the end, I told myself. But was I correcting others to help them or was I correcting only to prove [impress upon them] how much I knew? Regardless of the reason, I’ve had to re-evaluate my stance on correction and being corrected. This flawed logic kept me from not only understanding how hurtful over-correcting can be, but also how it can significantly undermine your learning. When everything needs correction, we don’t have the confidence to open our mouths, not just in learning a language, but in other things as well. We begin to cultivate an attitude of giving up before we start. I certainly agree that correction is needed at times and if someone cares about you, they will and should correct you. But every time is not necessary and being selective and compassionate in how you do it, makes all the difference. Guess you’ve figured out, I have a story about this one? Well, of course, you’re right again.

My husband and I joined some of his family (we were not married then) in Provence for vacation and naturally, we had a wonderful time. I got to spend time with his nieces and we decided why not take them with us to our place in the French Alps before they went back home to Belgium? Sounded like a great idea (and truly, it was) at the time. The girls were about eight and ten years old, so we got to be silly and goofy together; laughing, dancing and singing. My French was minimal, as I was just learning then. We communicated with my basic vocabulary, supplemented heavily with a plethora of hand gestures and facial expressions. It seemed like a pretty good system we had going. Maybe, I should have stuck to it a bit longer…

As I began to get to know them better over the past week, I began to speak more in French, but every word was greeted with some sort of correction. At first, I was OK and rolled with it, but then, after a while, I began to get disheartened and then, just darn mad! Yes, they were just children, I kept reminding myself. And because of that fact, it made it even harder to be corrected and consequently, not get angry about it. I was stuck! How could I get angry at them? After all, being children, they didn’t have the understanding that I had, the compassion, the…wait!

And there it was…the realization that our nieces were responding in the same way I had for years. Oblivious to the hurt that it caused, they thought they were helping, and they were, just not on my time schedule. Amazing, how we continue in the same mistakes and selfishly, we don’t ‘get it’ until we are greeted with the same emotions, but from a different perspective. What goes around always does come around. At 44 years old, I finally have lived long enough to see it happen, not just in my life, but also in the lives of others.

With all that being said, yes…I do apparently have, “correct my French, SVP (please)” carved on my forehead. It was being forged many years ago and now it has been a sign well-weathered from the expat experience. I have visions of one of those carved wooden signs, that we’ve seen at many a crafts fair. I can still smell the faint brûler (French for burning) of the wood, as each helpful correction is forging its mark, to make me a better person. So, please do correct the ones you love, just beware of how you do it–because you may soon smell the burning wood from your forehead, when you least expect it.


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7 responses to “Is “correct my French, SVP” carved on my forehead?

  1. baidanbi

    July 8, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Very interesting. As both a former English teacher, adults, and a current language learner I think a lot about language development and corrections. Generally adults don’t overtly correct each other. They often use a more subtle technique, repeat what you said but with the corrected form. Do you find that it’s the people who know you better correct you or is it everyone? I know I have a tendency to correct my husband, who just started learning French, when I don’t generally correct strangers. I have to restrain myself because you’re right correcting someone too much is in no way helpful, in fact harmful. What I find the most interesting about your post is the bit about the children. I would find that extremely frustrating. Great insights!

    • expatriotgames

      July 8, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      Hello Baidanbi! Yes, I remember about your hubby. Didn’t he order his sandwhich wrong in French, but was a sport and ate it anyway? Your’e so right, adults are more sensitive, but even the repeating it correctly has been tiresome some days, but I have adjusted over time. In correcting others, I gage the willingness of the person’s interest in wanting to take their language to the next level. By that I mean, if someone only speaks English on the rare occaision, I find it harmful to correct. If the person wants to be corrected, I wait until they ask me for correction before providing it. Only if the mistake is a ‘show-stopper’ (potentially embarrasing for them, if repeated incorrectly) do I correct these days. To encourage correction but in a way that I can manage it better, I ask, “is that correct?” and establish that ‘modus operandi’ so that they begin to understand that I’m not open to correction when I don’t ask, That way, I can feel somewhat proud of my progress ;0). Being a former teacher, my goodness! It would be even harder for you! You just want to help, but when you are so knowledgeable, it can be a burden NOT to help! Thanks so much for your perspective, you would certainly know the ‘souci’ better than anyone! All the best to you and your hubby! Maybe you can ask his thoughts and let us know, if you can. Merci encore et bonne journée !

  2. Joan Wolckenhauer

    July 8, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I can really empathize with this blog! I, like you, have been on “both sides of this fence!”

    • expatriotgames

      July 8, 2011 at 3:12 pm

      Hi Joan! YES! Do tell us more! What would you change (if anything)? Inquiring minds want to know! ;0). Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. wherewander

    July 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    One thing I learnt as regards teaching (well, many things in fact, but this is important) is that you don´t have to correct the students while they are making a mistake.
    I listen, I let them speak Tarzan like, then when the excercise is finished I point out some “general” mistakes, no finger point. “somebody said “xx” but it should have been “x1”. And most importantly, before talking about the mistake, I talk about all the things that they did right and then about that minus mistake. People like to hear good things first, then they take the correction with a smile.

    When I speak a language that I don´t speak well, my theory is “you don´t speak my language so this is all I have for us to communicate, if you don´t like how it sounds, learn Spanish (my language).


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