Breaking new ground in French education

November 18, 2004, vol. 31, no. 6
By Carol Thorbes

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Three new teachers from abroad hope that their perspectives on second language learning will help advance Simon Fraser University's efforts to break new ground in French language education in B.C.

The faculty of education recently hired the three French nationals as part of its initiative to offer more post-secondary programming in French and train more French and French immersion teachers.

The trio has studied and written extensively about the complex challenges and interpersonal dynamics of second language learning in multi-ethnic settings.

“In Europe, cultivating linguistic and cultural diversity in the school system is a new aim,” says Cécile Sabatier, originally from the Auvergne region in central France. She says, “School has a role to play to promote multiculturalism in society. But teaching the language of a minority group at school is not enough to legitimize it. Schools should work on improving attitudes toward and perceptions of multilingualism.”

An assistant professor in SFU's new office of Francophone and Francophile affairs, Sabatier teaches courses in French in SFU's professional development program for teachers.

Born in the French Alps region bordering Switzerland, Danièle Moore has been appointed an associate professor, replacing Andre Obadia, who retired in the summer. Moore is writing a book on multilingualism in schools, and teaching in SFU's new graduate studies programs in French education for teachers.

Moore and Sabatier, doctoral graduates in linguistics and language education from the University of Grenoble, have similar perspectives on second language learning issues in multilingual minority situations.

They have researched bilingual patterns of language transmission, bilingual interactions within families and among adolescents, attitudes toward bilingualism in schools and the impact of contrastive educational choices on second language retention and language learning.

The duo has concluded that fostering a facility in several languages in multi-ethnic schools benefits the learners and society. “Multilingual children, in favourable settings, do not hesitate to use all language resources that they've learned in various environments,” says Moore. “They are more open to variation, they show greater flexibility in adapting to new linguistic and cultural systems and they have greater awareness of adapting to those new systems. They are also more aware of language patterns. They use language resources more strategically, as a bridge both between and across languages. Further research indicates that helping monolingual children adopt similar, flexible language resources can make them more culturally aware and proficient in their mother tongue.”

Originally from Paris, Marianne Jacquet has spent the last 15 years studying and researching at the Université de Montréal, University of British Columbia and more recently SFU. An assistant professor in the office of Francophone and Francophile affairs, Jacquet teaches Victoria-based students in the new master's program in French, offered outside of the Lower Mainland.

One of Jacquet's research interests is the extent to which schools accommodate religious and cultural diversity, and the decision-making underlying that process. In her recent study, she examines how prepared student-teachers are to teach in increasingly multi-ethnic schools, and to deal with value conflicts.

Having worked in Quebec, a province where French is the dominant language, and B.C., where it is not, Jacquet has some interesting research observations of B.C. teacher education programs. “Very few class discussions deal with value conflicts, and ways to address them in a pluralistic and democratic society,” observes Jacquet.

“Courses addressing various issues related to ethnic diversity, such as multicultural and anti-racism education, are most often taken by students who already have some personal knowledge of the subject. This means the vast majority of student-teachers are unprepared to face the challenges of teaching in B.C.'s multi-ethnic schools.”

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