The language school of the Bordeaux doctor.
A typical example of learning while playing is that of a doctor from Bordeaux, who became famous at the beginning of the twentieth century.
This doctor, which was known by all as a devout Catholic, once went to Paris and came back with a lot of money (which allowed the evil tongues to say that he was more of a freemason than a Catholic!). With this money he bought in the outskirts of town, on the left of Gironde, a large piece of land, relatively near the richest district of Bordeaux. There he had four houses built: one of them in French style, another one in English style, a third one in German style, and the last one in Italian style. After that he went to each of the four countries to find teachers for the kindergarten, and he managed to have the Bordeaux middle-class to send their children to the school, which they did in the first place to get rid of the children, and afterwards because of the credit obtained from cooperating in the pedagogical experience of one of the best known doctors in town.
When he had all the children, he assembled them in the central playground of the property – it must be kept in mind that, in spite of the Atlantic humidity, Bordeaux has a mild – and told them: «Do you see? In that house they speak French, in that one they speak German, in the next one they speak English, and in the fourth one they speak Italian. You may go wherever you like, but you will only be able to get in and play if you speak the house language.»
The first day the children, who were from two to four years old, went into the French house, but, little by little and quite naturally they started going into the other houses, where the teacher only spoke the house language, and little by little the children learned without any effort the four languages of the experiment.
It was the doctor’s idea that the success depended on the fact that the children’s brains are very plastic, and they easily learn through anything: the words they hear, the lips’ movements, the language of games, and so on, but, for some of his defamers the experiment had worked because he had done it with rich children, who had a privileged intelligence.
Then the doctor went again to Paris and came back with more money, and publicly and with deliberation created a second school in the poorest and most underdeveloped district of Bordeaux, with huts inhabited by all sorts of immigrants (Algerian, Portuguese, Spanish…). Since he had money, the children who went to the second school were well fed and taken care of, and he had an enormous success with their parents. As in the previous example, he took them from the age they wanted and after two or three years the children had learnt not only the language of each of the houses where they went in to play, but also the street language of the children which attended the school (Arab, Portuguese, Spanish, etc.).
Based on this experiment, the French Government made bilingual schools in Lorraine and Alsace, and in fact the children learnt three languages: German, French and their own: Alsatian or from Lorraine, depending on where they were from. The example was imitated in Holland. In Belgium, on the contrary, it was not possible because both the Flemish and the Walloon were more engaged in a language war, than interested in learning both of them.
And if we come back to our own situation, I think that with such experiences all our children would know four or five languages, and finally it would be the end of the fascist ghettos, which cause so much detriment both to lifelong Catalans and to immigrants.
This means that it would be exactly the opposite that happened when Franco agreed with the German government the emigration of Spanish workers for the German companies which needed cheap labour. The companies (as a condition from Franco, be it clear) built real ghettos with sleeping quarters, chapels, schools (these with the most fascist chaplains and teachers one could imagine) and even offices from the Banco de Bilbao or any other, so that the immigrants could send home the money they were receiving in small amounts. This fact caused that many workers went from sleeping quarters to factory and, after seven or eight years working there, they had not learnt one word of German, and they had not come to know anything of the town where they were living.
Agustí Chalaux de Subirà (1911-2006).
Translation: Loto Perrella.
Alexandre Deulofeu: «How shall we get to a universal confederation?».
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