Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Francophone Student Language Advocate
We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Kiley—French major, language advocate, and co-founder of a student-led organization at Centenary College of Louisiana.
1. Why French? And why pursue a French major?
When I was young, my mom had quite a few CDs she would play on repeat in her car. I loved all of them: the Disney sing-alongs, the fairy-tale stories, but most of all—the “What Is Your Language” song. Something about it was mesmerizing! To this day, I’ll find myself humming it while I’m working. I think, to my parents, my love of languages may have been apparent long before I realized it myself.
In Louisiana, many students begin learning a foreign language fairly young. Some begin in elementary school, some in middle school, and some in high school; I was one of the ones who began in middle school. Of the two options presented to me, my parents constantly asked me to try out Spanish. I was interested, but driven by pre-teen spite, I chose to study French instead. That first day of class was basically a “love at first sight” moment for me, and I’ve been obsessed with the language ever since. I had plenty of other interests, and by the time I hit my junior year of high school, I narrowed them down to three possible majors in college: French, linguistics, or astrophysics.
As time came to apply for college, I kept asking myself: What do I really love? What will I be happy with no matter the paycheck, no matter the hours I have to work, and no matter the obstacles I’ll face in the workforce? Those questions all led to one answer—French.
Not only is it fun and exciting for me, but it’s also incredibly versatile! With a French major, I could become a publisher, a translator, a teacher, an advocate, a language historian, a researcher, a diplomat, and so much more. A language major forces you out of your comfort zone and helps you pay attention to subtleties in communication; it opens your mind to the barriers we have around the world and allows you to start breaking them down. When you truly learn a language, you also learn a culture, a history, and a lifestyle that you would never otherwise know.
It makes the world accessible, and it equips you with one of the most powerful tools a person can have: communication.
2. You are one of the founders and current president of La Legion d’Honneur Louisianaise, a student-led organization based in Louisiana. Can you tell us a little about your organization’s mission and the activities members do?
Our goal is to promote French throughout Louisiana, which includes advocating for more French-immersion programs, providing resources for schools to begin French programs, organizing groups of all ages that come together to speak French, and collaborating with programs across the state to highlight their students’ hard work in our newspaper, Le Tintamarre.
We are a fairly new organization, and this upcoming year will be a big one for us. On top of reaching out to different parts of the state, we also are putting together fun food and music events on our own campus, planning trips to festivals (like Festival International), and building a fund to help send a few members every year to study abroad in summer language programs.
We want our members to have experiences that benefit them and build their love for the language, and we also want them to gain the skills to continue our mission long after they’ve graduated and moved on!
3. Why is it important for college students to advocate for language education?
About 60% of the people in our world are multilingual. More and more professions favor multilingual candidates over monolingual, almost to the point that it is necessary to have at least basic proficiency in a second language to ensure companies’ interest.
Without even considering the job market, being educated in at least one foreign language can keep you comfortable and safe when traveling, help you meet new friends, and give you a skill set that is vital to many types of community service. You never know when knowing a language other than your native language will come in handy. Sadly, language education is sometimes either difficult to come by or inaccessible for certain communities.
“English proficient immersion students are capable of achieving as well as, and in some cases better than, non-immersion peers on standardized measures of reading and math. This finding applies to students from a range of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, as well as diverse cognitive and linguistic abilities. Moreover, academic achievement on tests administered in English occurs regardless of the second language being learned.”
— Tara Williams Fortune, Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition
As college students who understand just how important language education is, it is our duty to fight for accessible, affordable, and adequate programs for all students!
Learning another language keeps your brain healthy, knocks down barriers, and gives you the chance to understand a group of people on a much deeper level. Though we are students, we are also adults; as adults, we have the obligation to participate in civic engagement. If we make our voices heard through advocacy and voting, we can ensure students of all backgrounds in all places have the equal opportunity to learn and develop the skills necessary to navigate our ever-changing world.
4. As you mentioned, Centenary College of Louisiana is home to the only student-led, French-language newspaper in the state: Le Tintamarre. What is the most challenging or the most rewarding part of working on a student paper in another language? Is there a particular story that comes to mind?
I think the most rewarding part of working on this paper is knowing that the community we write for is actively benefiting from our work.
Our newspaper typically features mainly French articles, but we love to include other francophone languages like Cajun or Creole. Louisiana has a history not many people know about—for a long time, it was illegal for francophone languages to be spoken by the people. Children were beaten in schools if they spoke any language other than English, yet they were brought up not ever speaking English in their homes.
The biggest goal of our newspaper, Le Tintamarre, is to celebrate those communities that were once attacked and to give them the recognition they deserve. We want to reconnect the entirety of Louisiana, north and south, to our collective past. And our efforts have not gone unnoticed!
Just recently, Louisiana applied to join the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie and included our newspaper in their paperwork. It is such a huge honor to be beneficial enough to our state that our government would include us—college students!—in their dossier de candidature.
5. What other activities have you sought out to support your French skills while at college?
On top of the newspaper and the honor society, I have been the tutor for the French department, led speaking labs with 100-level students, helped French exchange students through our
French Quarter, and worked toward publishing a book entirely in French.
I also attended our French Table, where students from all cultures came together every Monday and Wednesday evening to speak only French to each other!
We held awesome food events, played French games, and watched movies together. To study, I loved watching shows on Netflix in French, listening to French radio, and reading books by francophone authors.
BONUS QUESTION: What inspires your dream to become a French professor or teacher in an immersion school?
So many of the opportunities I’ve been given have come from my French professors; they’ve given me ways to break away from the fear of not being good enough and have pushed me to work hard for the things I truly care about. When they gave me the opportunity to be the tutor for our French department, I got to turn those gifts around and start giving them to my peers.
Once you see the people you guide genuinely flourishing, it honestly changes everything. I’ve watched my peers grow in their language abilities, and I’ve seen the way their understanding has transformed into passion for learning more.
Many colleges and universities require their students to take a foreign language for at least one year; I want to be there to help them find ways to love a course they may not have wanted to pursue. I want to uncover a student’s hidden love of language or open their minds to what a second, third, maybe even fourth language can do for their future! Most importantly, I want to give them the tools that I was given so that they may use them in whatever endeavor they undertake.
What’s next for Kiley?
She’ll be taking philosophy, linguistics, and literature classes (in French) while studying abroad in Lille, France. And after that? She’s looking forward to beginning Italian and German studies!
Interested in French scholarships, university programs, or student testimonials? Visit our Lead with French page to learn more. Then tell us your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media.