Merci beaucoup, Madame Lacascade

A Golden Bear sits in an office with several degrees on the wall for various languages.
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As a copy editor, it is my job to read for mistakes — insert comma here, correct typo there — but once in a while, I find myself pausing to appreciate a perfect word choice or an especially well-crafted sentence. In those moments, I’m reminded of my high school French teacher, Madame Lacascade.

Every week, she returned the latest round of graded compositions, and every week, they were inundated with red ink. She spent hours poring over our hastily written assignments, determined to catch every minute mistake in tense, number and gender; and she certainly did. But she didn’t read exclusively for mistakes. Between the grammatical corrections and point deductions, she always managed to squeeze in an “excellent sentence” or a coveted “très bien.” Through her own indisputable passion, Madame Lacascade instilled in me not only a love of French but one of language itself.

My high school teacher is a language aficionado. She fluently speaks seven but is forever in the process of learning more. For nine months of the year, she teaches French and Spanish to high schoolers; over the summer, she teaches Italian to college students. She even worked as an official translator at the 2004 Athens Olympics. In other words, her life revolves around the learning and sharing of languages, and it is clear that she would not have it any other way.

Perhaps what is most impressive, however, is not her own mastery of the process, but rather the way she so ably guides others through it. Admittedly, my classmates and I did not always match our teacher’s enthusiasm for French. We breathed a collective sigh each time we walked into class to find the whiteboards filled with the same vocabulary we had learned in 10th grade. It often felt as though her grammar lessons were the same three songs on repeat: «Le Subjonctif», «Les Expressions Idiomatiques» et «L’Imparfait», over and over again.

Now, I see the value of Madame Lacascade’s broken-record repetition and understand the importance of continuity when learning a language; my two-week breaks do me no favors in my Duolingo progress. But students skipped her class so regularly that she struck a deal: “Please come to class, and I will never assign homework again.”

She kept that promise throughout our final two years of high school.

My point is that Madame Lacascade was not blessed with a receptive audience. But what resonated with me over the years was her resolve to share her wealth of knowledge and to do so because she genuinely believes that language is something worth learning.

Madame Lacascade fully understands that language is a process — one often saturated with struggle and frustration. In my first year of French, I dreaded every oral presentation, painfully aware of my subpar accent and mispronunciations. But I was lucky in that my teacher insisted we learn and develop “as a family.” For the next three years, she cultivated such an intimate environment that the terror I once felt was slowly replaced with confidence.

To put it lightly, Madame Lacascade is a firm believer in her immersion policy. One day, I was tuning in and out of the lesson when I realized I understood everything she was saying! To date, this remains one of my favorite moments, and I still smile when I think about it. The previously overwhelming frustration gave way to determination, and I became wholly obsessed with the process of mastering French. But more than that, I understood why Madame Lacascade and so many others care so deeply about language; it is the means by which you can understand and communicate with other people, and the more you know, the more you can understand. In this sense, it is maybe the only thing worth learning.

For imparting that lesson, and so many more: Merci beaucoup, Madame Lacascade.

Contact Lauren King at [email protected].