Profile: Awesome : C. Brian Barnett, Director of French Language Instruction
C. Brian Barnett, Director of French Language Instruction at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities piloted a unique course in Spring 2019: FREN 3650 Topics in French/Francophone Cultures -- Francophone Louisiana. The most u
nexpected part of the course? A study “abroad” trip to Louisiana over spring break.
Before the trip
The course was designed “to introduce students to a French speaking community located within the United States where French is still used today.” Topics included linguistic variation, linguistic particularities of Louisiana French including pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, especially focusing on the similarities and differences between Louisiana French and the French spoken in France. The other major theme of the course was education and the role of immersion schools can play in Louisiana where the fight to keep French alive is ongoing.
Students were in Louisiana from March 17-23, 2019 where they met with several members of the Francophone community (e.g., Peggy Feehan, Director of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana), learned how to make pecan pralines and play the card game bourré, visited Myrtle Place Elementary School to see an immersion school first-hand, and most of all practiced their French in a real-world setting where the course content of their class on campus came to life.
Students interacted with many people involved in the Nunu Collective*. Because of the generosity of the Nunu Collective* to be part of FREN 3650, Barnett remarked that “There were so many other experts [the students] could interact with. It made me think that I wasn’t even involved and they were still learning, interacting, using their language, and developing a better understanding of who this community is.” Watching students grow in their confidence and knowledge outside the classroom was a moment Prof. Barnett was eager to share as his proudest moment of the trip.
For a student perspective, check out the piece “Francophone Louisiana: A Brief History and Travelogue” by French student assistant, Sam Glasford, who blogged about the experience on the Culture Shock student blog https://cultureshockumn.wordpress.com/2019/04/12/francophone-louisiana-a-brief-history-and-travelogue/ .Additional photos can be seen on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/FRITatUMN/
After the Trip
Reflecting on the trip, and the students’ experiences of it, Barnett said he was particularly proud to see “Students going from almost nothing to having a good understanding of themes and challenges found in Louisiana past and present.”
Students also appreciated the experience. One student, Abi Glaum, said “This course gave us the opportunity to connect with real professionals actively working in the field of French language engagement. As someone who wants to pursue a career in French in the future, building these connections now was a really valuable aspect of this course.”
Back in the Classroom
Returning to Minnesota, the students didn’t lose their connection with Louisiana. Kirby Jambon, poet and immersion educator at Prairie Elementary in Lafayette, visited the class, gave a lecture, and held a poetry reading on April 18th, 2019, and had the opportunity to visit a French immersion school in the Twin Cities, Normandale Elementary. Kirby Jambon has been teaching French immersion courses for 20 years and was the 2014 winner of the Prix Henri de Régnier from the Académie française in Paris.
Jambon’s visit was more than reminding students of the French they learned in Louisiana. It built stronger connections between Minnesota and Louisiana, this time showcasing the University of Minnesota and the Twin Cities to the native Louisianian.This is a logical collaboration as these two states share a rich past due to the historical connection of French explorers as well as the beginning and the end of the Mississippi River
The whole class, though, participated in the final course project. This final project from the class was about as conventional as the rest of the class. Instead of a final exam, Professor Barnett had students bring out their artistic sides and develop a work of art accompanied by a written component requiring students to reflect on their experience as an artist and state where Louisiana French culture, relevant course topics, and linguistic features of Louisiana French were integrated into their projects.
Part of the trip to Louisiana focused on the role of arts and creativity, so it made sense to have students showcase that at the end of the semester. Students composed poetry, made gumbo, creatively applied makeup, wrote prose, painted watercolors, and more.
In particular, one student wrote a song for the final project. The song was a riff off 200 Lines : I Must Not Speak French by Hadley J. Castille. Barnett contacted the son of the original author, and he was thrilled to hear a student wanted to work with his father’s song. This connection really highlights the ways that U.S. francophone speakers are a tight-knit community. The original song referenced the 1916 law that made education compulsory for students aged 7-14 and included the following lyrics “200 lignes je vas jamais comprendre pourquoi I must not speak French on the schoolground jamais encore.” The student’s version referenced the 2013 law requiring a school board to establish a foreign language immersion program if certain criteria a met and included the lyrics “ Mes 2 langues, je vas jamais comprendre pourquoi, I must parler both lenguas fluently à tout moment.”
When surveyed about their experiences, Jesus Encarnacion, the writer of the above mentioned song, explained that what he learned most from his classmates was that “we all have a passion for the French language and have taken Louisiana French and made it our own.”
All in all, Abi Glaum put the attitude of the students most succinctly, “Thank you Dr. Barnett and the French and Italian studies department for making this class possible!”
We in the department look forward to maintaining connections between Minnesota and Louisiana francophone communities, and hope this is but one of many iterations of the course.
*Prof. Barnett extends particular thanks to Amanda LaFleur and Mavis Arnaud Frugé for assisting in the organization of the activities and time spent with the group as part of their work with the Nunu Collective. More information about the Nunu Collective can be found at: https://nunuaccollective.homesteadcloud.com/about