D.C. Outlook: French schools help Louisiana

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 18, 2002


From the original French settlements of 300 years ago to the spicy and unique flair of today, French culture and language have always been an integral part of Louisiana’s heritage. In the mid-20th century, however, the Francophone population of southern Louisiana steadily declined during post-war modernization. Today, in a continuing effort to increase the French-speaking population of Louisiana, French immersion schools are striving to “reveiller la parole” or wake up the spoken language.

As late as the 1950s, bilingual Louisianians were reluctant to speak their native language. French was made illegal on school grounds, and it became increasingly unpopular to pass the language on to children. This trend caused an unfortunate threat to the existence of French in Louisiana; however, in recent decades, French has been reborn and is growing rapidly.

French immersion schools have been instrumental in this rebirth of French language and culture throughout the state. The Consortium, founded in 1995, offers a teaching community of local and international instructors. The U.S. Department of Education gives grants to the Consortium through the foreign language assistance program which provides for the establishment, improvement and expansion of foreign language study for elementary and secondary school students.

Today, French immersion schools exist in 29 schools in eight Louisiana parishes where 60 percent of instruction is conducted in French. These schools strive to help their students communicate fluently in French about topics appropriate for their age group. Academically, immersion students perform as well – and often better than – other students in all curricular areas.

Students enrolled in these French immersion schools not only help in the revival of French in Louisiana, they also acquire an uncanny knowledge, understanding and appreciation of other cultures. Students and their parents have recognized that immersion has taught new attitudes toward multi-culturalism and has bridged the generational gap of Louisiana French heritage.

French bi-linguists live by the phrase, “Un homme qui parle deux langues en vaux deux,” which, when translated, means, “He who speaks two languages is twice the person.” The positive results of French immersion schools in Louisiana are plentiful. Today, nearly 300,000 Louisianians consider themselves French speakers; however, experts say the Francophone population is increasing daily. As for the students of immersion schools, they illustrate the bright future of Louisiana both culturally and socially. Thanks to these students, Louisiana can count on a great revival of French heritage as well as a more diverse and multi-cultural population.

JOHN BREAUX represents Louisiana in the United States Senate.