Thursday October 10, 2013 | 03:54 PM

 “The purpose of the Maine French Language Heritage program is to bridge the gap between generations of French speaking families and celebrate the Franco-American heritage”, says Chelsea Ray, Assistant Professor of French at the University of Maine Augusta (UMA)

logo French Heriage Language Program

Learning or improving French language skills while building pride in the French culture are among the goals of the French Heritage Language Programs in the United States. Through university partnerships, the program contributes to scholarly research in the field of heritage language learning in the United States and France, as well as other countries.

Maine is a natural place for the program because of the state’s large Franco-American population who learned French from their French-Canadian immigrant families, and while attending Roman Catholic churches and parochial schools.

As a matter of fact, thousands of Maine’s Franco-Americans continue to speak some French and, for many, it’s their primary language.

Chelsea Ray, is assistant professor of French and comparative literature at the University of Maine Augusta. She is reconnecting Franco-Americans with their inherited culture through language and traditions in the university and in the local elementary after school Maine French Heritage Language (MFHLP) program.  Ray is the coordinator of MFHLP in Augusta.

Chelsea Ray assistant professor UMA

Chlsea Ray PhD., assistant professor of French and Comparitve Literature UMA

Ray is dedicated to raising French cultural awareness in programs hosted in Augusta and Lewiston-Auburn, by teaching children about Maine’s special heritage and language. The program includes learning some words and phrases familiar to local French speaking Franco-Americans. For example, children are encouraged to call their grandmother “Memere”, if this is their family’s traditional use of the word. In French, the correct title is grand-mere.

 At UMA, many of Ray’s French students learned to speak the language from their Franco-American parents and grand-parents when they were children, but lost their skills as they immersed into the state’s English speaking culture.

Augusta and Lewiston-Auburn shares the Franco-American traditions brought to their communities by French-Canadians who settled their two cities during the migrations from Canada, during the industrial expansion of the 19th and 20th centuries. This period of industrialization occurred when mills attracted Canadian workers to Maine.

As a result, the French-heritage population continues to share a rich history of French-Canadian and Acadian immigration, work, cultural life and language.

Chelsea Ray at MFHL program at Hussey Elementary School in Augusta

Chelsea Ray PhD, coordinator of the MFHLP in Augusta teaching children at the Hussey Elementary School's after school program.  (Left) Augusts City Councilman Hon. Patrick Paradis observes.

Until recently, French was taught in both public and the Catholic parochial elementary schools. Unfortunately, budget cuts caused the French language classes to be eliminated from all public elementary schools in Augusta. This is where the French Heritage Language Program picked up some of the lost opportunities to teach cultural awareness and language through after school programs. Hussey Elementary School and Lincoln School in Augusta are the sites for the after school programs. In Lewiston, the program is taught after school at the Franco-American Heritage Center at 46 Cedar Street.

All children in Maine can participate in a French Heritage Lagnuage Program wherever they are organized. When possible, the program supports the local Franco-American culture and the French language as it’s spoken in Maine and in New England. Teachers take care to be inclusive of the natural way people speak French. Eventually, the children will come to understand how language and culture are intertwined.

“We hope to attract children to the program who have a Franco-American family background and to include children of diverse ethnic backgrounds as well,” says Ray.

Information about French Heritage Language programs in the United States is available at the website: http://www.cal.org/heritage/profiles/programs/FrenchAmCultEx.html.

A newsletter from the Maine French Heritage Language Program (MFHLP) is at this website tinyurl address:  http://tinyurl.com/ng9egcu

Two important upcoming events: 

October 30 – 8:30-12 :00 at the Buker Community Center in Augusta a Strategic Planning Meeting for the Maine French Heritage Language Program.  

November 7th – Open House and Student Presentation at Lincoln School in Augusta st 30 Lincoln Street, Augusta, ME 04330 from 4:45 to 5 :15 PM

Contact Karen Foust, Coordinator and Teacher MFHLP at mfhlpaugusta@gmail.com

Contact Chelsea Ray at  chelsea.d.ray@maine.edu

About this Blog

Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.

Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at Juliana@mainewriter.com.

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