Speaking French is in the fabric of the St. John Valley history and culture. In fact, French has been the area’s primary language since the 1600s.

Native French speakers inherited their language from colonial ancestors who first settled the once-remote Northern territories around Madawaska.

Now, planners for the August 2014 World Acadian Congress (WAC) in Northern Aroostook County are offering help for residents who may want to improve their French language fluency.

Courses are being offered in anticipation of hosting thousands of international visitors who will attend scheduled WAC events in August 2014 on both sides of the St. John River in Maine, the Canadian Maritime Provinces and Quebec.

“Interest is growing in many parts of Aroostook County to learn or brush up on basic French communications skills,” says Jason Parent, president of the Maine delegation to the international program and events.

The Congress is expected to attract thousands of international visitor, particularly from French-speaking countries. Events for the Congress are already being scheduled.

Brushup French classes for beginners or more accomplished speakers are being offered through a joint program between the University of Maine at Fort Kent at the campus of Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle.

Classes begin August 30th and run for 16 weeks on the NMCC campus in Presque Isle. This course will emphasize oral communication. Class time will focus on interactive language practice, says Parent.

Parent is a native of “The Valley” who grew up speaking French.

“It was my first language until I entered kindergarten,” he says. “I speak the French of the St. John Valley,” he says.

In other words, the special dialect of Parent learned is commonly spoken on both sides of Maine’s international border with Canada.

Don Levesque is a French-speaking native of the St. John Valley and a retired managing editor of the St. John Valley Times.

“French is in our heart, in our soul and in our genetic makeup,” says Levesque. “French may be dormant among some of those who lost their French or may never have learned it, but it’s there waiting to be released.”

Francoise Paradis is a native French speaker and educator who grew up on Maine’s side of The St. John Valley. She lives in Buxton but frequently travels to her family’s home in The Valley.

“Our French language is the glue that bonds the various Valley communities together,” she says. “It’s the living symbol for the culture that blends us. We are descendents of the adventurers who left their home country in France in the 1600s to find a place in New France. Some of our ancestors when to L’Acadie (in Nova Scotia) and some went to Quebec. In the St. John Valley, the two groups blended as they migrated from both places to the Northern Maine area. French is what keeps the culture alive and evolving,” Paradis said.

Improving French language skills will help Northern Mainers to welcome the World Acadian Congress visitors.

“Although French is widely spoken in the St. John Valley, many non-French speakers will gain a better understanding of the language when they can transact business and enjoy the 2014 festivities with other French speaking people”, says Parent. “Tu va te sentir che’ vous,” says Levesque. (“You will feel at home.”)

The 2½-week World Acadian Congress is expected to generate $50 million in economic benefit to the region. This does not include the benefit tourists will contribute to the economies of other regions of Maine as they travel to their destinations scheduled at the World Acadian Congress.