One of my God-given gifts is the gift of language: language courses were my "easy" courses in university. I know, not fair. BUT, that said, I am always thrilled that I get to share that gift working with the Lemuel school in Haiti. As I mentioned in my previous post, the fact that I was able to learn Creole in Haiti also helps when I am working with teachers in Haiti in French. I understand the unique struggles of Creole speakers in learning French.
In Haiti, Haitian Creole is the lang pèp, or the language of the people, while French is the language of education. The Lemuel school uses French as the language of instruction. Across Haiti, French means opportunities - plural.
My job in Ontario is actually very similar to that of the teachers at Lemuel. I teach all subjects in my second language - French - to students who are learning the language, in a program called French Immersion. The program is wildly popular all over English-speaking Canada because speaking the two official languages means (you guessed it) opportunities.
This summer, Judy and I decided that my time would best put to use working only on French with the teachers at the Lemuel school. French is their second language too, and there are few opportunities for them to practice their French outside of school. As I spent last year dreaming and planning to return to Lemuel, it became more and more clear that having a second teacher would be beneficial. Enter Danielle, a colleague of mine who stepped up to the plate and came to Haiti with us this past summer. Over the summer, Danielle and I compiled French resources, files, videos, and lesson plans to bring with us. Danielle was an absolute blessing to have on the trip and I don’t know what I would have done without her.
The first day, I introduced what’s called the Common European Framework for Reference Languages (CECRL), which is an internationally recognized system for teaching and learning languages. The CERCL has recommendations for how much time should be spent listening, speaking, reading, and writing based on each level and there are a plethora of resources available that follow the framework. So many amazing resources and documents are available on this system. When students are ready, they can register to take an exam - even in Haiti - to assess their level of fluency and obtain a certificate which is internationally recognized and valid for life. It’s awesome!
The CECRL resources mean less planning for the teachers, more access to authentic listening activities, a gold mine of lesson plans, and the opportunity for students to take an exam to certify their level of fluency, should they decide to take it.
In the following mornings, Danielle and I split the teachers into two groups to work on French language skills. She worked with the kindergarten and primary teachers while I worked with the more junior and intermediate grades.
In the afternoons, Danielle and I worked on instructional strategies to make French learning fun and engaging. I don’t know about you, but a lot of the time when I took French or other language courses, we spent a lot of time working out of textbooks and not a whole lot of time actually listening to and speaking the language. This way of language learning is old school and usually ends with students lacking confidence in speaking and listening interactions (you know, the main reasons you learn a language). With the goal of getting the teachers talking, we played lots of vocabulary games, we made skits, and we did as much as we could to get them speaking in the target language.
One of my favorite activities to do is to teach French using popular music. I hand out lyrics with blanks to fill in and we listen to the song three times. The students fill in the blanks with the words that they hear, we do a reading activity to make sure that everyone understands what the song is about, we talk about new expressions and vocabulary that we find in the songs, and in the end, I have them come up with a short skit using all of the new vocabulary that they learned. With one song, I have a listening activity, a reading activity, and a speaking activity. My kids at home are so addicted to the songs that we listen in class that they listen to them incessantly at home on the Spotify playlist I set up. The teachers at Lemuel were no exception to this rule: they loved the songs we listened to.
From instructional techniques, to games, to songs and skits, we hope that by the time we left, the teachers had new tools in their toolboxes that they will bring into their classrooms this year.
Working with the staff at the Lemuel school was an absolute joy and my time there never feels quite sufficient. I love being a small part of what they do every day to bring education to one of the most under-resourced areas in Haiti. Because of Lemuel’s grade sponsorship program, there are teachers earning a decent wage, there are kids with full bellies getting a quality education who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to one, and there is real change coming to their community. If you don’t sponsor a grade, I highly recommend you consider it. It’s the best 40 dollars I spend every month.