No, French week is not a Canadian event where everyone has to speak French. Organized by the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF), National French Week is an annual celebration of everything French, including French language and culture.
This year, the event takes place from November 8 to 14.
And surprisingly, there’s plenty to celebrate. French is actually growing as an international language. According to the Organization internationale de la francophonie (The International Organisation of La Francophonie – OIF), the number of French speakers in the world increased from 200 to 220 million in 2010. In the United States, French keeps getting more popular. According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau 1.3 million Americans speak French at home, although the OIF claims this number is closer to 2 million. Many Americans learn French to get access to French culture, including French literature, art, cuisine, French intellectuals and films. According to the 2010 OIF report, between 2006 and 2010 there were approximately 1.6 million elementary, secondary and post-secondary students of French in the U.S.
The AATF is the largest national association of French teachers in the world. Founded in 1927, it has over 10,000 members, including elementary, secondary, post-secondary and French immersion teachers.
Dr. Jayne Abrate, AATF’s executive director explains why National French Week was started and why she believes it’s an important event.
What does National French Week mean to you?
Jayne: National French Week is an opportunity to take French out of the classroom and to show the wider school community and general public that French is still an important language to learn.
How did the idea come about to celebrate a whole week of French language and culture?
Jayne : In 1999, our then AATF national President Gladys Lipton came up with the idea. It was at a time when Ricky Martin was very popular and the first explosion of Spanish-language advertising, popular culture, etc. was happening. We thought French needed to be more visible.
Why do you think it’s important for the United States to celebrate National French Week?
Jayne: It is an important part of our national heritage. The French influence in North America is almost as old as Spanish influence. It can be seen in place names, people’s names, local celebrations, and historical events and monuments. French is the second most taught foreign language in the U.S. and we want to preserve the opportunity for students to study this global language.
Now in its twelve year, in which ways has National French Week grown? How many associations and schools participate now compared to 2000?
Jayne: National French Week has become a tradition in many schools. We encourage teachers to collaborate with other departments in their schools, with local business and associations, community theaters, etc. We always envisioned it to be a local celebration that takes advantage of all the interests and resources available in the community.The last survey we did showed that nearly half our members had celebrated National French Week or planned to do so in the coming year.
What kinds of events are planned for this year?
Jayne: Our local chapters and member teachers organize events. Many then report to us later on what they have done. These include in-school contests, performers and speakers coming to schools, collaboration with theater/music/dance departments or troupes to sponsor community events, chapter-wide contests, and many other ideas limited only by the imagination and budget of the teacher involved.