This unit is written for high school French 3 and 4, and it focuses on interpreting historical events while building up background knowledge. It creates an overall awareness about the French-speaking world rather than memorizing grammar structures and rules often emphasized in language learning. Our curriculum is designed to give the teachers leniency to expand and use history, art, culture, and cross-disciplinary topics. Students in French 3 and 4 can explore various themes independently – under the overarching themes of contemporary and standardized French language teaching. As students move from levels 1 and 2 to 3 and 4, the task difficulty increases as students go through stages of second language acquisition. Precisely, in levels 1 and 2, our curriculum, although thematic, focuses more on vocabulary, which is often contextualized. Hence, in French 3 and 4, the tasks become more cognitively demanding. The context becomes less evident as we go from conversational scenes to interpreting facts, giving opinions, and expressing thoughts in speaking and writing.
Although the themes are selected to prepare our students to become fluent in French, we need our students to become thinkers. Thus, there is more to teaching French than improvising conversational utterances, teaching strict grammar rules, training students how to self-correct mistakes, and convert the lesson into a grammar monitoring process. In the last twenty years, the paradigm of teaching a second language has shifted from accuracy to fluency by optimizing the comprehensible input and focusing more on interactive activities. However, what I think is missing from our instruction has little to do with our teaching but instead with what we are teaching. Yet, by focusing precisely on the content, we realize that – our curriculum embodies the same ideology that we perceive as the cradle of French culture and civilization. In other words, the “Francophonie.”
The reason why many students choose to take French nowadays stems from the widely believed idea that French pertains only to France, its culture, traditions, and history. Yet a language, in general - has many parts that make up its structure: Grammar, phonetics, lexicology, text analysis, syntactic morphology, etc. Thus, the overarching curriculum offers and requires that - phonetics, lexicology at least be based on modern, standardized French at the high school level and the higher education. When students study French, their main focus is to communicate and learn the "Parisian" version of the language.1 Phonetic practice does precisely that. The videos, audios we play are mainly narrated in that version. Teachers hardly encourage other French accents and dialects, especially those in Africa and the Caribbean, as they deem them non-standard.
Teachers usually create non-racist or neutral lessons where race is not discussed at all. This practice also goes for language and foreign language teachers. However, teaching a non-racist curriculum is not the same as teaching an anti-racist curriculum. 2 On a more personal level and as a teacher, I believe that neutrality in any curriculum deepens the problem. Neutrality impedes creativity and uniqueness. Practicing neutrality in our lessons to avoid the race discourse perpetuates the problem and ensures continuity of the status quo. It means we cannot see beyond the glass wall and colorblindness.
Inherently French teachers are language teachers, and their focus is more on the linguistic aspect and reassuring that students acquire fluency in French. Teaching for social justice and using culturally responsive pedagogy is not one of the focuses of language teachers. Social justice - is founded on three pillars – equity, activism, and social literacy.3 It is not easy to adopt a foreign language curriculum and teach for social justice. Yet, as challenging as it might look, it is quite possible, as long as we understand that we must challenge the narrative and decolonize the curriculum to teach more culturally responsive content. With this assumption, I mean, we must teach students various French-speaking cultures, history, art, colonization, decolonization, and the quest for independence. Forming a solid background will allow students to become aware of more linguistic components such as French Creole expressions, or French African dialects.