French connections

Students volunteer in French-speaking environments to enhance learning

- April 12, 2011

Brendan Peters (right) volunteered with Fédération des Parents Acadiens de la Nouvelle-Écosse where Natalie Aucoin works. (Danny Abriel Photo)
Brendan Peters (right) volunteered with Fédération des Parents Acadiens de la Nouvelle-Écosse where Natalie Aucoin works. (Danny Abriel Photo)

On the surface, Halifax appears to be an English-speaking city, but Dr. Jean-Jacques Defert, assistant professor of French at Dalhousie, knows better. Thousands of people live most of their lives in French here and this year, his course French 2002.03 - Spoken French started connecting students with them.

The service learning project is a first for the Department of French. Students volunteer in a French-speaking milieu and report on their experiences in class.

Reaching out

“I believe that in order to learn a language you have to use it for specific purposes,” he says. “Grammar is an essential component in learning a language, but if you’re just doing drill exercises, you’re placed totally out of reality.”

Dr. Defert spent the last six months reaching out to francophone organizations in Halifax. He’s found everything from a group of entrepreneurs who meet at a Tim Horton’s to talk business to the well-established Fédération Acadienne de Nouvelle-Écosse.

Students work at a variety of placements. The ideal for the class, he says, “is to get students placements to match their interests, so they could do what they like to do.”

Students have offered tutorials in French at the Halifax Public Libraries, announced the news at a Francophone community radio station, analyzed media coverage at the Fédération Acadienne de Nouvelle-Écosse and organized community events for the Conseil communitaire du Grand Havre.

Fourth-year chemistry student Brendan Peters grew up near Cheticamp, a French-speaking town on Cape Breton island. Coincidentally, so did Natalie Aucoin, directrice générale of the Fédération des Parents Acadiens de la Nouvelle-Écosse where he volunteered.

Mr. Peters wants to teach science in a French immersion school. His placement with Ms. Aucoin enabled him to work on an early childhood education project, but he also learned a lot about the everyday challenges francophones face in the province.

Opportunities to engage

“It was nice to know someone who was from close from home, for sure,” says Ms Aucoin, “He did great and it was great to have him there learning about what’s going on in our community.”

“She really understood that it was about providing opportunities for me to engage,” he says. She got him working on the phone, attending meetings, even going out for coffees with friends.

“It’s a crucial program, to have the French community incorporated with the Department of French,” he says, “because it’s really provided me with an experience that I’d never have otherwise.”

Ms. Aucoin agrees. The practical aspect to the program she sees is the direct access it gives Dal students to a community that is not visible in Halifax.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to learn about us, but also for us to give back and to get to know some students as well,” she says. She’s looking forward to hosting students next year.

Summer jobs in French

The project provides a great opportunity for non-profits, says Dr. Defert, who is on the hunt for more organization to take students on next year.

“They need hands, but these students also provide them with university competencies. They are analytical, good with technology. The feedback has been beyond what I could have expected.”

In fact, some students have been offered jobs and will stay in Halifax for the summer, working in French.


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus