Cheryl Thompson is an adjunct professor of French at Weber State University. She became interested in the language when she was a young girl taking ballet lessons.
“I loved the language, I loved what I was hearing,” Thompson said. “The teachers would say glisse and I thought, ‘Wow, what a beautiful language.’”
Thompson started taking French in junior high school and kept with it through high school.
“I had a French teacher in high school and I just fell in love with her,” Thompson said. “She was so cute. She was actually from France and her English was so cute when she’d help me. So I went up to college (at the University of Utah) and was taking French for two semesters and was getting pretty good at it. That’s when I met my ex, who was a French speaker. He had lived in France for a couple years, and it was this thing we had in common.”
When Thompson and her ex-husband had children, they would tell each other secrets in French. That eventually led to her sons learning the language in school so they could know what their parents were talking about.
This was also the time when she took a break from school to be a homemaker.
“(My ex-husband) got a job at Firestone Tires that led to an overseas position, because that’s what he wanted,” Thompson said. “He wanted to use his language in his work. So we moved to Akron, Ohio, to the international office, waiting for an overseas assignment. One day, he came home and said, ‘We’re moving to Casablanca, Morocco. How’s that?’ I had to go look it up on a map, I didn’t know where it was. It’s a former French colony, and it’s the language of business there. English wasn’t an option.”
Thompson said she had to become an expert on the French language. Her ex-husband would be gone for periods at a time and if she couldn’t speak and understand French, it was difficult to secure the food her family needed.
Firestone Tires hired a French tutor for Thompson who taught her the language through French jokes.
“I got it to the point where I’d understand, but I didn’t get the French humor, the cultural difference with jokes,” Thompson said. “They’re just weird.”
The family moved back to the United States and Thompson continued to work at home. Once her youngest was in first grade, she started school again to finish her associate’s degree at the U of U before getting her teaching degree from WSU.
“Dr. Hansen (a French professor at WSU) was my teacher when I was going to school here 20 years ago, and was always my mentor and encouraging me,” Thompson said. “She even had me substitute once for one of her classes, and that made me feel like she had confidence in me.”
Thompson has taught a concurrent enrollment French class for 11 years at Viewmont High School. Those concurrent enrollment credits count as if the student had been in a class at WSU.
“Language acquisition is such a strong brain exercise,” Thompson said. “I think it actually sticks more than remembering dates or figures in history because you use it to communicate. You create meaning with those words that are personal to you.”