For the 7th consecutive year, 20 students from the French Heritage Language Program (FHLP) led by their teachers participated in the annual French Theater Festival “Première Scène” organized by the Lycée Français de New York. Started 21 years ago by two LFNY teachers, the festival gathers every year more than 200 students from schools all over the country but also France and Canada, around a theater competition, celebrating the French language.
The FHLP participants to this year’s festival attend Manhattan International High School and Community International High School, two institutions members of the International Network of Public Schools. Recently arrived from Haiti or West Africa, they meet once a week, under the umbrella of the French Heritage Language Program to maintain their French by working on cultural projects.
Last week end, they took the subway with their teachers to the Lycée Français de New York and joined students from over 15 bilingual private schools in the US and Canada, to celebrate the French language on a stage.
For these participants, from the Lycée Français, Quebec-based College International Marie de France, Lycée Rochambeau in Washington or the Browning School, French is either a native language or they are learning it at school at school.
For the FHLP students, French is a Heritage Language which means that far from being a “foreign” language, it is familiar in a variety of ways. Some people may be able to speak, read, and write the language; others may only speak or understand when spoken to. Some may not even understand the language but are part of a family or community where the language is spoken.
They were all given the same directions: create a theatrical piece, 7 min maximum with décor and costumes fitting in a suitcase, around the theme “OUF”, an interjection which marks relief, a job well done or stands for crazy in French slang.
The International Community High school won the prize for Best scenario with their original piece “Dragueur” and Manhattan International won the prize for Best Ensemble Féminin for an adaptation of “L’Os de Mor Lam” , a African tale written by from Birago Diop, a Senegalese author.
This experience perfectly embodies the mission of the French Heritage Language Program: making French an asset for new Americans. The linguistic assets of these students from Africa and Haiti are recognized and celebrated through the arts; they are tapping into their own culture to express themselves in French and bring to life la “Francophonie”, displaying the diversity of the French language.
They use French to express their complex identities and show the other participants that the French language is more than the language of Paris and Moliere; it is also a language spoken in Dakar, Bamako or Port au Prince and the language of many beautiful literary pieces from African and Haitian authors.
BRAVO to these students who are always very proud of competing and winning against students from prestigious schools with more resources and far more access to the French language.