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Francophone Education

francozone

FrancoZone
Welcome to the FrancoZone
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Here’s a question for you: How can francophone parents, regardless of where they live in Canada, make sure their children learn to speak French?

I think I can guess your answer: “Speak French to them!” It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it.

Yet for some francophone parents living outside Quebec, it’s easier said than done. Those parents get in the habit of speaking English to their kids, especially if their spouse is an anglophone. The end result: kids with francophone roots who grow into adults who don’t speak much French.

Now let’s bring things closer to home. If your spouse is a francophone and you speak another mother tongue, is your child learning French as well as English or perhaps another family language? In other words, is she or he on the path to full bilingualism?

If your answer is anything but an unqualified “Of course!”, perhaps it’s time to create a FrancoZone.

Framework for action

A FrancoZone is a space, time or regular activity where everything (or almost everything) happens in French. It provides a framework for families to develop habits that let francophone parents pass on their language and culture to their children. The concept can also be adapted to other contexts such as the school and the community.

Who benefits in a FrancoZone? First of all, the children. But their parents benefit, too — including parents who speak French and those who don’t.

If you’re the non-francophone half of a mixed couple and you want your child to become fluently bilingual, the advantage of the FrancoZone is that it respects how comfortable you feel hearing or speaking French.

Welcome!

In these FrancoZone pages, created in English for you and in French for your francophone spouse, you’ll find information, tips and testimonials. There’s also a forum that’s part of a national initiative spearheaded by the Alliance des femmes de la francophonie canadienne (AFFC), a women’s organization whose goal is to enhance the wellbeing of francophone women and girls living in a minority setting.

This is all intended to help you and your spouse create your own FrancoZones and pass on the lifelong gift of bilingualism to your child. Enjoy your visit and feel free to share your experiences with other parents in the same situation as you!

 

 
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How to create FrancoZones
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FrancoZone space

To create a FrancoZone space in your home, choose a spot in a common area (though not too close to a source of distraction such as a TV) where you can set up a small table or desk. It's easy to find something for under $25 on Kijiji, at garage sales, in the classified ads and elsewhere. You may be able to pick up a chair, too, or just take one from elsewhere in your home.

Be sure to choose a spot that's handy for you, perhaps close to the kitchen. (One day while house-hunting, I discovered a child’s play/work area tucked away in the basement underneath a flight of stairs. It was a tiny, enclosed space with room for only a tiny person — not at all suitable for a FrancoZone.)

If it helps, stake out the limits of your FrancoZone with masking tape on the floor. Some parents actually consider this to be a key element of their Zone.

Outfit your FrancoZone with items such as crayons, pencils, an eraser, a ruler, etc. Consider borrowing or buying a dictionary suited to your child's level, as well as any other resources that may be fun and useful.

Since the focus of a FrancoZone is French language and francophone culture, why not decorate your space with French-related posters and other items? If your child is into drawing, you won’t need to buy many decorations since she or he will produce an endless stream of masterpieces…

If your child is a bit older, you could put up the francophone flag of your province or territory, or even the whole collection of Canada’s francophone flags. How about printing some family photos (a visit with distant francophone relatives, etc.) and putting them on the wall?

FrancoZone times and activities

A FrancoZone can also exist in time. There are moments every week, if not every day, where parents find themselves in their children’s company for the same reason, such as driving them to dance lessons, karate, soccer, music, hockey…

You can take advantage of these occasions to create a FrancoZone time by listening to the radio or music in French or, if you’re able, conversing in French.

There are doubtless many such moments in your family life that you and your spouse could convert into FrancoZones.

You can also conduct regular activities in French. For instance, watch weekly TV shows in French, prepare and eat certain meals in French (e.g., every Friday supper), clean the house in French (okay, that might not be the best example because the idea is to have fun together), and so on.

The most important thing to remember is that FrancoZones are intended to help your child develop lifelong habits in French. No matter what times or activities you choose, make sure you do them consistently.

 

 
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My FrancoZone
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My FrancoZone (“Ma FrancoZone” in French) is the name of an innovative project being piloted by the Alliance des femmes de la francophonie canadienne (AFFC) in order to inform and motivate francophone mothers to speak French in their homes, and to help them create the conditions to make it happen. The AFFC has developed workshops, prepared bilingual resources and set up a forum to encourage participants and their spouses to apply the FrancoZone concept in their daily family life.

This initiative focuses on increasing the opportunities for children of francophone mothers to hear and speak French. The various forms that FrancoZones can take reflect each family’s reality, including parents’ different comfort levels in French. To succeed, both parents must be ready and willing to discuss, share responsibility, agree to compromise, and make a commitment.

My FrancoZone will help francophone mothers by…

  • making them more aware of their vital role in passing on French to their children
  • providing them with information and opportunities to share their stories
  • making the use of French in day-to-day family life a normal occurrence.

 

The objectives of the project are to…

  • expand the place that French occupies in the lives of francophone mothers and their families
  • increase the transmission of French to children in mixed francophone/non-francophone households
  • reinforce the importance of mothers passing on French as a mother tongue to their children.

 

A key element of the FrancoZone approach, which is easily adapted to a variety of contexts, is that it helps families create a non-threatening environment for parents who don’t yet master French but still wish to practise it. Another group of parents who can benefit from this project are francophones who, at some point in their family tree, lost French as a mother tongue but want to bring it back for their children.

My FrancoZone will help francophone women, families and communities in a minority setting to make French an important part of their daily life, in order that their children learn the language and acquire francophone culture. This project will also provide data on the influence and impact of a community that actively encourages families to expand their horizons.

 

 
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Yes, it works!
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Does the FrancoZone approach really work? Absolutely! But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s the story of an anglophone-francophone couple who raised two boys in Western Canada to become fluently bilingual:

“Beginning to learn another language is comparable to starting an exercise program. Baby steps.

“My wife is francophone and I am anglophone. Upon the arrival of our first son, we were confronted with decisions on what language would be spoken in the home? Which school he would eventually attend. Whether culture was important. I was a little overwhelmed by it all as I had never had to reflect on such profound aspects of both my life and those of my family.”

(That’s a comment I hear often. Life can become, how can I put it… richly complicated for mixed couples, especially when they start a family. But back to the story.)

“The decision to endorse and encourage French in and out of the home was easy. My only fear was how I would fit in as an anglophone. As our two sons grew and matured in their mother tongue I learnt French along side of them.

“I found at times trying to speak French throughout the entire household way too difficult at first. So we set up a ‘French zone’. One room in our house with a TV, video, radio, toys, tables, chairs, small sofa, etc. Most things were labelled in French and all videos were in French and the radio was tuned into our local French radio station.”

(They could use an entire room because they lived in a big old house in the country. Getting that kind of real estate in a city would easily have cost twice as much. Fortunately, the FrancoZone approach can be adapted to any situation!)

“When I entered the room I was frequently reminded I was ‘in the zone’. Having this zone alleviated a lot of pressure from me and encouraged everyone to learn French. As the boys grew older the zone also grew and by the time they graduated I was functionally bilingual. It was wonderful.

“Like runners get into their ‘runner’s high’ or their ‘zone’ I would encourage couples of interlinguistic marriages to also get into their ‘French zone’. We did and we never regretted it.”

Not only did this couple successfully raise two fluently bilingual sons in Western Canada, but the father also learned French. If you’d like to find yourself in a similar situation one day, now is the time to bring FrancoZones into your family life!

 

 
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Rules
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All parents know that children need rules. Rules provide the structure that helps us grow, learn, build our character and form our identity. But that doesn’t mean they should be set in stone! On the contrary: a certain amount of flexibility, where appropriate, allows both children and parents to adapt to our constantly changing environment.

One of the most important components of the FrancoZone concept is that it includes rules. Here’s the first one: “Whether the Zone is a space, time or activity, everyone who enters or participates in it must always speak French as much as possible.” Let's call this the first Golden Rule.

On the other hand, the second rule states that “A person (especially a non-French-speaking parent) may temporarily exit the FrancoZone if he or she feels too uncomfortable or needs to pass on some information in his or her mother tongue.” This may happen quite frequently at first, but over time it’s very possible that this person will withdraw less and less often from the Zone.

Golden Rule #2 is particularly important for parents who aren’t at ease in French. If you’re not comfortable in a given situation, you’ll likely avoid it or try to lessen its impact on you. It’s perfectly normal that parents who don’t speak French well enough — according to their own criteria, expectations, aspirations or wishes — wouldn’t want to put or find themselves in a situation where they don’t understand what’s being said or have to express themselves being able to do so easily.

The second Golden Rule offers these parents not so much an escape hatch as an invitation to participate in the FrancoZone knowing that their feelings are respected and their language skills don’t constitute a barrier.

Only two rules?

If you really like making rules, you could decide that the French-speaking parent must always speak slowly in the FrancoZone, or use the simplest words, and so on.

As for your child, she or he must always communicate in French as much as possible with every person who enters the FrancoZone… and stay in the Zone for as long as agreed (or as long as you decide). It’s kind of a deluxe version of Golden Rule #1.

Making rules so that a FrancoZone works well doesn’t mean imposing a whole bunch of constraints. It’s up to every family to establish the parameters for each of their FrancoZones. That being said, there’s little chance of success unless both Golden Rules are in place and followed.

 

 
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