En français, classe! It’s the classic cliché of a French teacher in the U.S: the overzealous, beret-and-striped-shirt-wearing Frenchman or woman practically bouncing off the walls and requiring the incredulous students to “say it in French” although the students haven’t a clue about what that means, except a few nasal tones and hand gestures. This teacher has appeared in Saturday Night Live skits and episodes of the Simpsons, a representation of “Frenchness” so prevalent in the popular American imaginary. But after spending years living and traveling throughout France, Morocco, and Québec, as well as two decades of studying the literatures and cultures sharing the French language, this cliché has become unrecognizable. My goal as an educator is to estrange my students from it as well, and have them appreciate the complexities and variations of French, and even appropriate the language so that it becomes a part of them. I hope they’ll see the interest in saying it en français.
I’ve decided to start this blog to keep track of the many ideas, tools, documents, links, class activities, and professional discussions that relate to the teaching of French language, literature, history, and culture to college undergraduates. There already seems to be a plethora of online tools and resources for the teaching of French to younger students, as well as countless France-based websites for students there to use in preparation for their national exams. Interactive online exercises, also, abound. But wouldn’t it be useful to have an on-going conversation about which stuff actually works in the university classroom?
The specific cultural and academic context of the 21st-century American university poses unique challenges to instructors of French. How can we make the French language relevant, living, and engaging to young adults in this country? Which approaches to cultural material incite the most enriching discussions? How can we recreate an immersion setting in the American classroom? Can there possibly be an interesting way to teach the subjunctive? What about bringing students up to speed on writing the classic French explication de texte? How do we approach textual analysis without reducing it to a fîche de lecture? What role do French literature, history, and culture play in a broader humanities curriculum?
In my eight or so years of teaching I have thought about these questions and haven’t figured it all out yet. But my hope is that this blog will be a voyage of discovery as well as an invitation to others to join the discussion. It’ll also be a record and repository for the many specific activities I use in the classroom, which I’ve created and you should feel welcome to use (the categories and search tool should help you find ideas). Please also feel free to drop a comment!