French teacher

On Friday, when I locked my classroom door, I completed 26 years of teaching French in Chappaqua, New York. Although Spanish is still more popular (and I teach that as well), we have a large group of French students who begin at age 10. Most of them continue their studies through high school and beyond.I am passionate about all things French. I am American, but was educated at the Lycée Français. I have lived and studied in France and Switzerland.What interests me most on this page is your effort in promoting the study of French. When I hear "Spanish is more useful" I cringe. To tell the truth, the fact that I speak French has opened more doors for me than Spanish ever will.I would like to receive your input on how to convey to parents that if a child wishes to study French, they should not be dissuaded by "pop thinking".
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  • Bonjour,

    Je travaille depuis peu sous l’autorité de Fabrice Jaumont au service éducatif de l’ambassade de France à New York.

    Nous organisons pour cette rentrée scolaire un concours sur le thème de la Tour Eiffel qui fête cette année ses 120 ans! Ainsi, nous souhaitons que des élèves se mettre a l’œuvre pour offrir de beaux cadeaux a cette ‘ Dame de Fer’ qui n’hésitera pas a les récompenser.

    Veuillez trouver ci-dessous un lien détaillé du concours:

    Restant à votre disposition, si vous avez des questions.
    See you soon !

    N'hésitez pas a promouvoir ce concours qui permettra aux enfants, aux collégiens et lycéens d'en apprendre encore plus sur la langue française mais également de découvrir plein de détails croustillants sur un monument historique Ms Eiffel Tower qui fais le charme de Paris.
    School Contest 2009
    What is it? The French Embassy in the United States, in partnership with the American Association of Teachers of French, will host a series of schoo…
  • Going into my second year of teaching French, it is my goal to uproot the belief that Spanish is easier and more useful than French(such a local rather than a big picture view-and part of the problemin the USA). I would hope that none of us promote an elitist impression of French, for I fear that is one reason why numbers are low. The fact of the matter is, French is accessible to everyone, not just the elite in a school. Find a way to get boys enrolled. Try TPRS. Hip Hop and Rap exists. Boys, they call it the FRENCH kiss for a reason. Bring in sports and famous Amerians who speak French or have homes in France. France isn't just about haute cuisine et la mode...what about medicine and telecommunications and etc. Minitel was the precursor to the internet and the French internet use is incredible...
    As a new school year is upon us, make it a goal to make French accessible to all.
    If you build it they will come.
    Be well
  • I have the utmost respect for anyone who chooses education as their vocation, but I must confess a great sadness to find such disheartening ignorance in some of these comments.

    Language is a foundational component of culture and identity. Any discussion of the "usefullness" of a language requires a tremendous amount of delicacy, respect and objectivity. The personal bias in some of these comments does reinforce elitism and, sadly, this is something children pick up on very easily. Prejudice is mostly learned behaviour.

    Personally, I grew up in the United States in a household where one parent was a native French speaker and the other a native Spanish speaker. At the time, my parents were repeatedly chastised by my educators in the school system for having raised me as tri-lingual. I love all three languages I was raised to speak, plus others I've studied out of my own personal interest, like Latin and German.

    To this day, I cannot understand educators who are against... education! No wonder our educational system ranks behind other countries with fewer resources than us.

    What makes a language "useful?" The number of people who speak it? The median income of its native speakers? How many heads you will turn at a cocktail party when you demonstrate proficiency in it? What is the criteria being used here? And who is to be the judge of that?

    We should all "cringe" when anyone says any one language is "more useful" than another, across the board, without any qualifications. That is just ignorant. That's like saying one culture is "better" than another.

    Even if the main concern is "opening more doors," one language may open more doors for one person, while another language may open more doors for someone else.

    If your goal as an educator is for your students to "impress people" please tell me where you teach so I can make sure to keep my children as far away from your school as possible. Children should have higher goals in life than to "impress people."

    If you think that French eclipses Spanish all cultural aspects, you have a lot more research to do. They are both incredibly rich cultural and linguistic traditions, with worldwide reach and influence, as are many other cultures.

    If we are concerned about which language is most useful for mastery of English and standardized testing, Latin and German surpass both French and Spanish in commonality and root structure.

    If statistics are so important, Spanish speakers outnumber French speakers in the world by approximately three to one. It is the fourth most spoken language in the world while French is the ninth. Considering the inevitable rise of China and India in the global economy combined with the fact that Mandarin and Hindi are the most spoken languages in the world (approx. 1.2 trillion and approx. 366 million, respectively) why is there no discussion of their usefulness?

    I am not advocating Spanish or any other language because all languages (and the cultures they derive from) are important and "useful." The important thing is to expose children to as much as you can and then encourage them to pursue their interests. Different languages will be "useful" to different people. We must not judge for other people which doors we think they should want to open but encourage and challenge them to think, decide and learn for themselves.

    Please do not let your own personal bias spill into your classrooms. Children are sponges. Teach them instead to develop a respect for all languages and cultures, then to develop their own personal preferences based on individual taste and not prejudice.
  • So many good points!!!! It is so discouraging that parents regard language study as just a vehicle for employment. I heard the comment from so many people that they loved the sound of French, French cooking, etc. but that Spanish is more useful for careers in the States. A French mom living in NJ explained to me, that American parents are going about this all wrong. Her thoughts were interesting. She said that there are so many heritage Spanish speakers in this country, that when Spanish is an important part of the job, all else being equal, the heritage speaker will be hired. There are fewer heritage French speakers in this country, however, so that a non-native speaker of French has a better chance. Of course, we all know that studying a language, any language, is much more than vocational education, but it is nice to have an answer to those parents!
  • c'est la langue de l'amour. c'est la poesie.
  • Thank you Ernest for an incredible post! I would never have spoken in terms of "chiffres" but having these facts at my fingertips will come in handy!
    Another thought--let's plant the seed in out students (or us as we retire!) to get going a cable channel showing only French films! Hmmm.... I see a second career here! :))
  • Please note that in my accounting of continents, I gave France 5 because I did not count French speakers in South America. But I also did not count Spanish speakers in Africa.
  • I doubt that, at least in New York City, French will ever outdo Spanish in popularity as a 2nd language – there are so many factors in favor of the latter : sheer numbers of native Spanish speakers in New York, prevalence of the language in popular culture and music, hip hop – the fact that it is the default 2nd language for advertising and publicity, etc. Think about how many Spanish language channels your cable company offers… probably more than one, right? And radio stations – I can think of 3 Spanish language stations off the top of my head, and not a single one in French.

    This should be kept in mind when strategizing for increasing the popularity of French so that teachers of French know what they are up against in terms of trying to convince parents; that said, I believe that the individual who mentioned the ‘35%’ figure referring to words in English that come directly from French was on to something; numbers impress. In the words of Le Petit Prince, « Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres ». There are many more native Spanish speakers in the world than native French speakers – but if that were our only metric for learning a language, then we would all be trying to learn Mandarin. Here are some helpful numbers; sources vary but can be easily verified:

    Number of countries where French is the official language : 40
    Number of countries where Spanish is the official language : 21

    French claims large numbers of speakers on 5 of the 7 continents.
    Spanish is found largely on 3 continents.

    Number of countries where French is spoken : 54
    Number of countries where Spanish is spoken : 44

    Nobel Prizes in Literature by Country from 1901-2009, Ranking:
    France, 15 awards, Ranked #1
    US and UK tied for #2 with 11 awards each
    Spain, 4 awards, Ranked #7

    Total Nobel Prizes from 1901-2009:
    France, 55 awards, Ranked #4 (Spots 1-3 occupied by USA, UK and Germany)
    Spain, 5 awards, Ranked #26

    The UN has 6 official languages; French, as Claudine mentioned earlier, as well as Spanish are both included, however Wikipedia seems to suggest (and my wife’s experiences as a human rights attorney seem to support) that the Secretariat of the UN uses two working languages: English and French. French was historically the only language of international law and diplomacy before English joined in alongside French.

    So I think the key here is to really give parents a global vision – as opposed to a local one – of the power of French as a foreign language. It also doesn’t hurt in terms of maximizing options for pleasant vacation destinations :0)
  • How lovely it is to have a group who understands why it has been such a privilege being a French teacher!
    Over a year ago, while reading FLTeach (who has given me more than one great idea...), I was linked to a video which touched me immediately: I sent it to my soon-to-be-AP class and their enthusiastic response made me think that this joyful, though silly, "dance" was something that I could get a bunch of "cool" teenagers to do as we travelled throughout France in April. We did just that. One of my brillant students (Madeline, it's Ryan!) took my raw footage and turned it into an wonderful souvenir of a glorious 10 days with an unforgetable group.Here's the link:

    I think (hope) that you will enjoy it!
  • I completely agree! French opens so many doors. I was teaching French and Italian in the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns. Spanish is taking over due to the great amount of Spanish communities in this country and I think it's very political but it doesn't mean that Spanish will open more doors. I had a great amount of French students and they really enjoyed the language. Spanish is not more useful than French. Language should be studied to open your eyes to a new culture and develop your brain. As music, it has been proved that if you study a language you will have more facility with Math and Sciences. Also, as French teachers, if you make it fun and remind the parents that Quebec is closed to their home and it’s a great opportunity to learn about another culture without traveling over sea. It also helps! We have to be strong and believe in our language and defend it. Everything can change. As French Teachers, If we make it cool and pop, we will get the kids to learn French!
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