Making French Connections

Asking students to understand why they should learn a language is never an easy task, in particular when the language is French and France is so, so far from Australia.

However this is not true for St Catherine’s girls. French at St Catherine’s is strong, not just because it is taught from the Junior School, there is a real love for the language and the French exchange opportunities in place at our School foster this passion.

It is important to note that French is spoken not only in France but in over 50 countries – ranging from being the official language to being a cultural legacy. Our nearest French speaking neighbours are in Asia, in the old French Empire Indochina and in Oceania with the main country being a French Territory, New Caledonia which is merely a three-hour flight from Sydney.

French is also taught as a second language in many countries, just like here in Australia, one such country being Serbia. When an opportunity arose to make a connection with a school in Serbia, I seized it with both hands as a wonderful opportunity to promote the learning of languages, my passion. It was not the typical exchange situation start-up. An old French school friend of mine, a teacher of French (as his mother tongue) and now in charge of training teachers in bilingual schools in Serbia, got in touch regarding a professional project I could be part of. The Serbian teacher in charge of the bilingual group got in touch early in Term 1 and from then two projects were established for our respective students to engage in, one being a self-introductory letter and the other a description of our respective schools, both of which allow for a correspondence with a person of a similar age also learning French at a confident level.

Both of St Catherine’s Year 11 French VCE teachers and our new Serbian counterpart saw it as a great experience to offer our Year 11 students. This collaboration linked our students with other French students across the world and also provided them to learn about another country and talk about theirs. These projects extended our students’ learning outside the classroom and enabled them to use French as the lingua franca (vehicular language) in their written exchange.

As an educator, the instant reward was indescribable. It is truly empowering to witness, and heart-warming to see, the positive impact these projects have had. We had not anticipated how our students would react, however our students’ responses were incredible and contagious. The girls’ enthusiasm to find out how and who was a real tribute to how much they value their learning of French and they have seen the relevance of the language used outside of the classroom.

Collaborations such as this provide our students with a time to shine and show how much of the language they actually know. They have observed that languages actually know no boundaries and in that respect, they are growing as global citizens in this modern world.

The power of ‘pen pals’ is often forgotten and underestimated. There is nothing like the old fashioned way of handwriting a letter. It adds that personal touch we lose in electronic mails, it shows care and thoughts of what we write and how it is conveyed. There is value to a pen pal exchange that in turn benefits our students. Life-long friendships usually emerge from these opportunities. We are looking forward to a flourishing relationship with X Gymnazija ‘Mihajlo Pupin’, and who knows, we might receive in the near future a postcard “From Serbia, with love” from one of our students.


Ms Gwen Hackel

French Teacher

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