“Trick or treat,” I repeated, lowering myself to eye level with Jeanne. I watched her lips. “Trick or…tweat,” she said, laboring over the “r” but arriving at the end this time with a “t.”
“Trrrrreat.” My “r” sounded like the combination of a dog’s growl and the catch of a car engine.
Jeanne’s little blue eyes stared at my lips. Hidden behind the cracked classroom door, I held the key to her concentration in my hand — literally.
The golden plastic bag rustled in her hands as she squirmed excitedly before trying again. “Trick or…trrrrrreeee…n,” she smiled.
Stifling my giggle, I plunked a piece of candy in her bag. “Happy Halloween,” I said. Jeanne returned to her seat, I closed the door, and up came Hugo for his lesson.
Because Halloween is a typically Anglo-American holiday, the English teachers at my primary school take the opportunity to organize several lessons around the theme, teaching words the kids will probably never use in everyday conversation, like witch and vampire and jack-o-lantern. But there is more than just vocabulary to teaching English, and if Halloween makes it more fun to learn to pronounce the “a” in “black” and “cat,” c’est deja quelque chose.
Since pronunciation is sometimes more important (and more difficult) than the apprehension of vocabulary, it shouldn’t have surprised me that none of the teachers mention trick-or-treating. It’s one thing for the kids to repeat it, and another for the adults to propose it. The phrase is a downright tongue-twister for the teachers too. From start to finish it repeats the purely American “r” sound along with the strong “t” at the end. The French tendency is to say, “Twick or twee,” but after having all nine of my classes play at trick or treating I realized that the possibilities for variation are endless.
What better way to practice such difficult sounds than to bribe my students with a treat if they would fall for my trick?
Standing in the hall outside the classroom, I waited for each student to knock individually at the door, candy sack in hand, and repeat “trick or treat” as many times as necessary to earn a piece of Halloween candy.
My plan worked. Much to my delight, no one realized how hard they were trying and everyone enjoyed a (usually forbidden) piece of candy — as one little boy recounted to another at recess — “right in the middle of class!”
“So, you are buying your students’ love,” Nicolas teased me when I bragged about my success.
“No! I’m sharing the cultural experience of Halloween with my students and rewarding their efforts. You try saying ‘Trick or Treat,'” I smiled.
(He can say it very well, by the way.)
My life in Images: Le week end dernier a l’ancien abbaye du val des choues.
Once upon a time an abbey devoted to the “Order of the Val des Choues,” mostly destroyed during the French Revolution, these days back to life as the Hunting Museum of the Cote d’Or. Home to about 150 hounds and a herd of hunting horses…and lots of deer antlers and boar heads.