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HomeFeaturesFrench around the World and Right Here

French around the World and Right Here

Kathy Stein-Smith provides an update on the French resurgence in the US

While you may know that French is spoken by 300 million people around the world and by 2 million people at their homes in the US, and that much of what is now the US was once part of New France, there is so much more to know—about French language and Francophone culture, right here and right now.

What’s Happening

There are events happening all around us that not only remind us that the French language and Francophone presence form part of our identity and offer the possibility to learn more, but also provide entertainment, fun, and the opportunity to connect socially to a wide range of interests and ages.

La Journée internationale de la Francophonie, the International Francophone Day, is observed on March 20th throughout the world, including the US. A program of the OIF, or Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, the Journée internationale de la Francophonie is observed each year to celebrate French language and Francophone culture. A wonderful sign of support from the OIF for French here in North America is the establishment of an OIF office in Québec, and for French in the US, the visit of OIF Secretary General Louise Mushikiwabo to Louisiana in 2022.

While March 20th is important for French language speakers and for French and Francophone cultural supporters and stakeholders, events, programs, and activities right here at home across the country reveal the true extent and impact of French language and Francophone culture in the US.

Bastille Day, the French national holiday, is routinely celebrated in towns and cities across the US on or around la Fête nationale on July 14th, with noteworthy celebrations in New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and many other towns and cities—a recent count included more than 50. La Saint-Jean-Baptiste, also known as the Fête nationale du Québec, is widely celebrated in New England and beyond on or around June 24th.

The Congrès mondial acadien, held every five years, has been held in both Louisiana and Maine. The Carnaval de Québec and Mardi Gras draw crowds to Québec and Louisiana respectively, including both locals as well as visitors from around the world, including Americans of French ancestry.

The Alliance Française, with 850 chapters in 136 countries around the world, and 114 in the US alone, promotes French throughout our country and worldwide. Immersion programs and bilingual schools provide education with French as a medium of instruction in many states, and the French heritage language program provides instruction and support to heritage speakers from around the world.

Although Louisiana is home to the largest number of Francophones, Maine is home to the highest percentage of those with French or Francophone ancestry, and NYC alone is home to over 80,000 Francophones. The French-American Foundation of Minnesota strives to increase awareness of the French history of Minnesota and much of the central US.

Beyond the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans and the Carnaval de Québec, iconic in-person events include Mardi Gras celebrations at the Franco-American Centre in Manchester, NH, and the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine. Other noteworthy in-person events include the annual NH PoutineFest, the recent Forum Économique: French means business in the United States—through the Nous Foundation, the Consulate General of France in New Orleans, and Tulane University, and frequent French heritage events in Minnesota.

Online events include the Acadian Archives Lecture Series through the University of Maine Fort Kent, the series on Femmes Peintres at the Alliance Française of Philadelphia, the Le Cercle Francophone d’Histoire at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, and the Laura Plantation podcast. In addition, the French-Canadian Legacy Podcast offers new content on a regular basis, and the Alliance Française sponsors a wide range of opportunities for language and cultural learning both in-person and online.

Colleges and universities are also often the setting for French language and Francophone cultural events, including institutes, centers, and film festivals. La Maison française of New York University has been recognized as a Center of Excellence by the French Embassy of the United States and, in January 2023, Dr. Shanny Peer, director of Columbia University’s Maison Française, was awarded the French national Légion d’Honneur.

There are Francophone communities, stakeholders, supporters, and enthusiasts across the country, and online worth watching. In addition to French media, including TV5Monde, the worldwide Francophone television network offered by the OIF, the representatives of France and Québec in the US—the services culturels français, Consulats de France, Alliance Francaise, et Délégations du Québec, and the Centre de la Francophonie des Amériques are wonderful sources of information and support. At the local and regional level, Franco-American Programs, University of Maine, The Franco-American Centre in Manchester, NH, and The Nous Foundation, in New Orleans, and the ACQS (American Council on Québec Studies) are among organizations to watch.

There are also wonderful French language learning initiatives, including immersion programs and the French Dual Language Fund. Organizations to watch include the AATF (American Association of Teachers of French), CODOFIL (Council on the Development of French in Louisiana), and the French Dual-Language Learning Network. Most recently, on his historic visit to Louisiana in December 2022, French President Macron announced the launch of the French for All initiative, intended to promote and support bilingualism and French language learning in the US.

French language and heritage communities in Maine, Louisiana, and New York City are establishing of pre-professional pathways based on French language skills and knowledge of French and Francophone culture.

What We Know: French as a Global Language and a US Heritage Language

Many Americans, relatively unaware of these present-day and historical connections, may wonder why French and Francophone events and initiatives are everywhere, and the answer lies in what we know about the longstanding relationship between the French and the Americans. Many Americans, accustomed to the prevailing British historical narrative highlighting the 13 British colonies, are often surprised to learn that most of what is now the US was actually part of the French and Spanish colonial empires.

Much of what is now the US was once part of La Nouvelle France, with place names throughout the country signs of the French presence and heritage – examples including St. Louis, New Orleans, Detroit, Vermont, and Boise among many others, along with the motto of the State of Minnesota, L’Étoile du nord. In addition, the ideas of the French Enlightenment/Siècle des lumières were central to our American Revolution, which we may well not have won without the aid and support of France.

The Francophone presence in the US is not limited to its historical role, and the recent visit of French President Macron—the first official state visit of the Biden administration—to Washington, DC and to New Orleans, was national news and included support for French language learning, the French for All initiative. Many recent immigrants to the US from France and the Francophone world contribute to vibrant and growing communities in many regions of the US, including Maine, the setting of the recent film, Le Carrefour (Intersection).

What’s Next – French Language Learning and Use in the US

French language and Francophone culture have always been part of our American identity, and now is the time for us all to recognize not only our French and Francophone heritage, but also our present and future. While we know that 2M in the US speak French in the home, and that French is the second most frequently studied language, it is important to understand not only its impact on our history, but also to envision its role in our future.

Building on the historical relationship between the US and France, and the global appeal of French language and Francophone culture, there has already been a resurgence in American visits to France since the pandemic, which is likely to continue. The closeness and complexity of the ties between the US and France have recently been clearly demonstrated in the visit of French President Macron and in the French for All language learning initiative in support of French immersion programs that was launched in December 2022.

We need to provide opportunities for children and young people to learn French, whether as an additional or a heritage language, through immersion, community programs, or through traditional language programs in schools.

Our Francophone reality here in North America is closely linked to Québec and to the many French-speaking immigrants who brought French to the US, especially the newest arrivals many of whom have come from Haiti.

Raising awareness, supporting parents and families, and “building opportunity through multilingualism” and francoresponsabilité

Building on our French and Francophone past, our global and local present, our French and Francophone future relies on local communities, educational institutions, and global connections through family, media and communications, and business and careers. It’s all about “building opportunity through multilingualism,” the theme of Language Advocacy Days 2023—for ourselves, our children, and our communities to engage with the globalized and multilingual world both abroad and right here at home.

Francoresponsabilité, a term from  Québec defined as developing the use of French in daily life, is key to the future of French in the US. The challenge remains to build that bridge between heritage language communities and the motivation for school students at all levels to reconnect and to learn more – a bridge between languages and cultures, and between generations. Important steps include raising awareness of the importance of languages, language learning and language use, and supporting parents, families, and communities in their efforts to promote languages and to protect heritage languages.

It is equally important to recognize the disparity that may exist between the presence of a significant heritage language community and the desire of a child or young person to learn their heritage language, to learn the language of their parents and grandparents, even when the language in question is a global language. This disparity can result in declining enrollment even in regions with a strong Francophone history.

The challenge for heritage languages generally is the transmission of the language and culture to future generations, and it is not unusual to hear Americans of many backgrounds refer to a language spoken by parents and grandparents that they themselves may no longer speak, or may only speak to a limited extent, and French is no exception.

T help overcome this, parents can create an environment where French is present throughout the daily routine of the young child, from stories told or read to the young child, to developmentally appropriate media, and to conversations and activities in the extended family and community. An example of a parent group addressing this challenge is Canadian Parents for French.

For school-age child, immersion and bilingual programs go a long way toward building on those language skills and cultural knowledge acquired at home, and parents have the opportunity to work with their schools to develop extra- and co-curricular activities to support language learning and use.

However, the opportunity to learn and to use language cannot stop when the school bell rings, and parents and communities can develop those after-school, weekend, and summer activities best suited to their children’s needs. Examples include the French classes and story time for children offered by the Franco-American Centre, and Camp Bienvenue offered by the Franco-American Centre and SNHU, along with the Coupe de la Francophonie soccer tournament in Brooklyn. Technology can also help to bring authentic audio and video to children. The important thing is to support learning and use of the language by children and young people wherever they may be. For older children and young people, it is also important to clearly demonstrate the benefits of language skills in the workplace in real-life settings and to support local French language job fairs and career events like the recent Forum Économique in New Orleans.

We should be building opportunities for all interested students to learn languages, with the array of personal, professional, and societal benefits they provide. It is never too soon to begin learning French, whether as a heritage or additional language, and all current and prospective language learners, as well as their families and communities, deserve our support.

L’union fait la force!

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Do You Speak My Language? You Should

Kathy Stein-Smith, PhD, is associate university librarian and adjunct faculty in foreign languages and related areas at Fairleigh Dickinson University—Metropolitan Campus, Teaneck, New Jersey. She is chair of the AATF (American Association of Teachers of French) Commission on Advocacy. She is Officier dans l’Ordre des Palmes académiques andMember, Pi Delta Phi, The National French Honor Society. She is the author of three books and several articles about the foreign language deficit, has given a TEDx talk, “The U.S. Foreign Language Deficit—What It Is, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do about It,” and maintains a blog, Language Matters. Kathy has also recently been elected to the executive board of the American Society of the Academic Palms (

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