When we think of the French language, France and other European countries may come to mind.
But French is actually spoken in over 50 (yep, 50!) countries in the world—nearly 30 of which have designated French as their official language—including many countries in North and West Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.
So, why should your AP French students read Francophone literature that hail from places outside France?
The Benefits of Teaching French Literature That’s Not from France
While the AP French Literature exam is no longer offered to AP French students, the AP French Language and Culture exam is still offered, and may contain similar content around themes and vocabulary noted in the reading list below.
By offering your classroom a rich, diverse selection of titles by French-speaking writers from all over the world, your students will come away with a fresher, more global perspective of French-language literature and the larger world they live in.
Presenting literature penned by notable French authors in your classroom is important, but your students will most likely receive similar instruction down the line. And, as an added bonus (and I speak from personal experience here), students who don’t typically witness reflections of themselves in classic Francophone texts may be even more excited to engage with what they’re reading.
Varied, creolized vocabulary—influenced by the culture featured in the text—is another bonus about teaching AP French literature grounded in experiences outside of Europe.
For example: In Haitian and other Caribbean cultures, “Krik?” “Krak!” (or, “Are you ready?” “Yes, I’m ready!”) is a common, call-and-response refrain during post-dinner storytelling with—like most Haitian Creole—etymological roots in West African languages.
Providing your students with enlightening narratives and settings whose themes may appear in European texts—but viewed through a more broadened, international lens—adds another dimension through which they can interpret art, society, politics and history. As with the war referenced in Hoai Huong Nguyen’s “L’Ombre Douce” (listed below), many in Europe refer to the grand battle as the “First Indochina War,” whereas many in Vietnam recognize it instead as the “Anti-French Resistance War.” Again, it’s all about perspective.
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Break It Down for Your Students
As your students read, ask them to note the significance of the setting, the overall cultural impact of the themes or how a shift in the landscape alters the perspective of the characters.
For example: What cultural significance do China and Canada hold in Ying Chen’s “Les Lettres Chinoises?” How does each character identify with their culture or the culture of another society?
Zoom in on the ways in which the French language is employed throughout the text. Do your students notice how it may differ, even slightly, from the ways in which European French may be employed in French literature?
For example: Positioned against the backdrop of colonial era Martinique, une domestique translates as a more culturally specific term for “servant” noted in Zobel’s “La Rue Cases-Nègres.“ In European texts, however, une bonne or une femme de ménage (both meaning “maid”) may be noted instead, especially in more contemporary works of literature, as domestique was adopted in France to also mean, roughly, “cyclist” at the turn of the 20th century.
You could even add in clips of authentic French movies or TV shows that correspond to the French literature you’re studying. For that, I recommend FluentU.
Activity Suggestions for Global French Literature
Make it fun! You can up the engagement factor here by creating some kind of trivia game or timed tournament, such as:
Name That Lit! — As you reference a pair (or more) of themes drawn from a particular text, students can strive to be the first one to raise their hand and call out the correct AP French literature title. Play at least two rounds. You’d be surprised at how lively this game can get!
Word Round-Up — Throughout the year, note about 10 or so culturally specific terms from one of the issued texts on the board. The first student to correctly note the meaning of each word en français based on the cultural context of the story would win the game.
Go ahead and reward your students with say, 15 extra credit points on an upcoming assignment or quiz. Get creative with the incentives!
Observe How Your Students Absorb the Reading Material
Take an informal, anonymous survey in class on the AP French literature your students have just read. Get honest feedback on your students’ thoughts on the themes and stories explored, so that you’ll continue to improve the selection of titles that you issue in class.
Note the ways in which your students’ horizons have expanded since reading the material. Do you notice a difference in how they interpret French-language texts? Do you notice a shift in how they use language in class?
7 Diverse Works of AP French Literature to Give Students a More Global Perspective
1. “Moi, Tituba Sorcière . . . Noire de Salem” by Maryse Condé
With cultural and artistic roots in Guadeloupe, Condé explores themes of race-based and gender-based oppression, religion and healing, all while she creates a well-crafted tale resting at the juncture of history and fantasy. The story revolves around the Salem witch trials at the end of the 17th century, and is told through the voice of Tituba, a mixed-race Barbadian woman enslaved in Massachusetts.
2. “L’Ombre Douce” by Hoai Huong Nguyen
In Nguyen’s debut novel, intercultural connection and romance blossom in 1950s Hanoi between two lovers from two different countries, Mai and Yann, while the gritty landscape of the last days of war unfold before them.
3. “La Rue Cases-Nègres” by Joseph Zobel
In this semi-autobiographical work, Zobel tells the story of a young orphan, José, raised on a sugar cane plantation in rural, 1930s Martinique by M’man Tine, his hardworking grandmother, and Médouze, a father figure and griot (a creolized term meaning “storyteller” which is derived from the French language and rooted in West African cultures).
His family tries to propel him forward to an enriched life of education and success, despite the societal byproducts of imperialism and colonialism that their community faces.
4. “Lueur” by Madeleine Gagnon
French-Canadian author Gagnon explores themes of maternalism and instinct around the loss of language that begins in the womb. Gagnon also outlines the rich, textured role that dreams play between the space of birth and death in this revolutionary, nonfiction work.
5. “La Célestine” by Jan J. Dominique
The year is 1986, and Mireille, an instructor with a fierce love of literature, meets a charismatic older woman in the streets of Port-au-Prince. Told during the height of the déchoukaj (literally meaning “uprooting,” a Haitian Creole term referring to the fall of the Haitian dictatorship), Dominique presents us with a unique story of friendship and writing set against a backdrop of socio-political unrest.
6. “Le Rire de la Méduse” by Hélène Cixous
In this groundbreaking long-form essay, Algerian-born writer Cixous offers a multi-textured approach to feminism and intentional language in literature, by drawing on the metaphor of the Greek mythological creature, Medusa.
Cixous urges us to shift our view of the feminized figure as an evil character tentacled with snake-like hair and malicious intent, to a multifaceted individual to be celebrated in all of her complexity, which, Cixous advocates, is how all woman-identified individuals should be viewed in literature and beyond.
7. “Les Lettres Chinoises” by Ying Chen
Themes of internalized cultural alienation and long-distance romance anchor this poignant story of three friends, Sassa, Yuan and Da Li. Sassa and Yuan fall in love in Shanghai. Feeling like a stranger in his own city, Yuan makes the difficult decision to move to Canada. Meanwhile, Da Li finds a difficult kind of love that defies borders.
These seven works of AP French literature push narratives beyond Europe’s borders.
Reading such a well-tapestried mix of French-language literature will encourage your students to explore all kinds of stories hailing from all over the world.
And One More Thing...
If you love the idea of teaching with bite-sized snippets of authentic French content, you'll love FluentU.
How can video clips aid French teachers in class? Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps students ease into the French language and culture over time. They'll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos topics, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. Students can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help learners understand how the word is used.
Plus, if a student sees an interesting word they don’t know, they can add it to a vocab list.
For example, if a student taps on the word "crois," they'll see this:
With FluentU, students will be able to practice and reinforce all the vocabulary they've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. All they need to do is swipe left or right to see more examples for the word they’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that students are learning, and helps them study at spaced intervals. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re studying with the same video.
Request a free trial and bring FluentU to your classroom today.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach French with real-world videos.