Parlez-vous Français? Romancing with French – BY SAMANGIE WETTIMUNY
It is an easy task to fall in love with ‘the language of love!’ French words are as diverse as life and as vast as its culture, but each word or phrase is known for its rhythmic melody. Being one of the most euphonic languages in the world, French remains the most commonly used language across the globe to translate romantic phrases.
Simply put, French is a language of love, life, culture, politics, and business! Remember more than 300 million people on all five Continents speak French!
There is no better day than today, the French Language Day to discuss the uniqueness and the importance of French as a major language of international communication.
And there is no better authority to speak about the significance of the French Language Day other than the French Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Eric Lavertu.
“I wish all the French speakers and French-loving Sri Lankans a happy French Language Day. Let’s celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity, as well as this beautiful language that is uniting us and allowing us to share much more than just words,” the Ambassador extended an open invitation.
Established by the UN’s Department of Public Information in February 2010, UN French Language Day is celebrated annually on March 20.
“This date was chosen since it coincides with the 40th Anniversary of the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF), a grouping whose members have in common the French language as well as humanist values,” he added.
According to UNESCO, the mission of this organization is to promote the French language and its cultural and linguistic diversity, to promote peace, democracy, and human rights, support education, and develop cooperation. The United Nations often hails the role played by IOF to reinforce its conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peace-building efforts, especially in French-speaking countries, as well as to foster a culture of multilingualism within the Organization.
Ambassador Lavertu says French is an easy language to learn. As he highlighted a significant percentage of English vocabulary is derived from French, and French is also a good base for learning other Romance languages such as Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian.
“Three hundred million people speak French every day on the five continents. French is the second most widely learned foreign language after English, and the fifth most widely spoken language. French is the only language, alongside English, that is taught in every country in the world: not only in schools and universities but also in our international network of 830 Alliances Françaises. On that aspect, Sri Lanka is a beautiful example of what the French network of schools and institutes is made of, with a network of five Alliances. France is also the world’s top tourist destination with more than 87 million visitors a year,” he added.
French literature is as vast as its culture. The French are absolutely proud of their language and its great literary masterpieces – the long tradition of poetry, prose, and drama. It is no easy task to pick and choose one or two favourite writers from a vast literature that is so diverse.
When asked who his favourite French writers are Ambassador Lavertu said it is extremely difficult to select just a few texts from millions of high-quality publications.
“I would say for 20th century Marcel Proust, (and the celebrated Madeleine passage!) and in poetry, Saint-John Perse (Nobel Prize in 1960). Stendhal (in prose) and Rimbaud (in Poetry) are my choices for the 19th century. Some poems of Rimbaud are translated into Sinhalese and Tamil and published by Alliance Française in Jaffna. We are thinking of a re-edition,” the Ambassador said.
“Of course, plenty of French writers are among my favourites and it is difficult to make a choice! I should mention that the two last French laureates of the Nobel Prize, J.M.G. Le Clezio (2008) and Patrick Modiano (2014) are among my favourites!,” he finally made a tough selection!
Ambassador Lavertu also spoke about culture-exchange programs that are being conducted by the Embassy in Colombo.
“Our cultural action is structured around programming and cooperation projects. On the one hand, we conduct a dense program of events that culminate during the French Spring Festival between mid-June and mid-July. For this occasion, we gather French and Sri Lankan artists and intellectuals from all disciplines (visual arts, dance, cinema, literature) to exchange around a specific theme,” he said.
“This year, for the tenth anniversary of the festival we will address the question of storytelling and how we can “recount histories” through art. Throughout the year, we also hold conferences, exhibitions, and workshops that foster an artistic dialogue between the two cultures.
On the other hand, we also support exchange programs that enable French and Sri Lankan artists and cultural managers to take part in artistic residencies and programs in either country. In May, we will for instance launch our first residency project in Sri Lanka in collaboration with the Geoffrey Bawa Trust, hosting two French artists for two months, said the Ambassador.
Alliance Française (AF) de Kotte Director and Alliance Française in Sri Lanka and Maldives Co-ordinator Bruno Duparc said that the demand for French is on the rise for many reasons and the interest for the language is still very strong, thanks to the excellent job done by all the schools, universities and institutes that provide good quality language courses and offering, at the same time, an opening to the French culture and the cultures of the French-speaking world.
AF s across the globe are committed to promoting the French language and culture with the support of French speakers and lovers of French culture.
When asked about the growing trends in French language learning in Sri Lanka, Duparc said that now there is a significant increase in the interest for higher studies in France.
“France is the 4th country in terms of the number of foreign students enrolled. It is a country that is indeed famous for its high-quality engineering institutes, business and administration schools, and very affordable tuition for higher education. Last but not least in the list are those who consider migrating to French-speaking countries and, therefore need a good standard of French to go, live and work in a new French-speaking environment,” he said.
AF events to mark the day
“For the Journée Internationale de la Francophonie, which eventually became the Month of the Francophonie in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, a very comprehensive program has been prepared within the Alliance Française network (Colombo, Kandy, Matara, Male, Jaffna), the French Teachers’ Association of Sri Lanka, the French and the Swiss Embassies and the High Commission of Canada. Contests, concerts, poetry recitals, storytelling, slam poetry events, movie films are among the events organised. Those interested can check out our itinerary https://www.facebook.com/francophonieinSL’” Duparc added.
Apart from the main events, there’s another interesting event organised within the Alliance Française network, which is called “Les Bouteilles à la mer” (Message in a bottle), inviting everyone to write (in French ) a simple or elaborate letter or a card (on paper) addressed to a stranger, starting with “À vous que je ne connais pas encore,” (To you, whom I do not yet know,) expressing a message of goodwill, kindness and best wishes.
“The letters should be sent to our postal address: 11 Barnes Place, Colombo 7 (with the sender’s address mentioned on the back of the envelope). Then we will redistribute them among the participants by posting them back randomly via snail mail, et voilà!,” he said with much enthusiasm.
Duparc explained in detail the annual events organised by Alliance Francaise in Colombo and other branches in Sri Lanka.
“Well, the month of the Francophonie is indeed a major event in which the entire Alliance Française network takes part!
The second major event is the French Spring Festival, an annual event for all enthusiasts of the French language and culture. The next French Spring Festival (FSF) will be held from mid-June to mid-July 2022. We are currently preparing the itinerary: dances, conferences, Fête de la Musique, exhibitions, and movies.”
Duparc added that the FSF 2022 will be a fantastic opportunity to welcome back their audiences in the newly renovated premises at 11, Barnes Place! The FSF 2022 will welcome a Franco-German event in Kandy, Un Musée (de Théâtre) organised by the Alliance Française of Kandy and the Goethe Institute on the Peradeniya campus. AF branches in Kandy, Matara, Galle, Jaffna, and Malé work hard all year long to keep the lovers of French language and culture entertained: library activities, exhibitions, competitions, language courses, and workshops.
“Learning French is a pleasure because on the one hand, it’s a beautiful, rich, melodious language and on the other hand, an analytical language that structures thought and develops critical thinking, which is useful for daily interactions and negotiations!
“French is the language you need to know if you want to properly immerse yourself in France and its overseas territories, the world’s top tourist destination with more than 87 million visitors a year.
And last but not least, being a French speaker opens up opportunities to study at renowned French universities and business schools, ranked among the top higher education institutions in the world,” he said.
He invites those who are interested in learning French to join the Alliance Française network in Sri Lanka and the Maldives to experience a journey to the French Language and Culture!
Well-known TV Personality and Personality Development and Corporate Etiquette Trainer Kumar de Silva said that his long-term friendship with the Embassy of France goes back to 1985.
Soon after his degree at the University of Kelaniya, he had casually applied for the post of presenter of ‘Bonsoir’.
“Even to this day, I am thankful to Rajitha Weerakoon (formerly) of the Sunday Observer Features for making me do so.”
He said he literally walked into the job almost immediately afterwards, joined the permanent staff of the French Embassy, and began presenting Bonsoir from January 1986.
The Bonsoir TV show was an all-round entertaining and enthralling program. De Silva co-hosted the show along with colleague Yasmin Rajapakse for 15 years. His Bonsoir Diaries based on the program was launched later in 2013.
“The French language has been in my blood since I began learning it in 1977, firstly for the A/Ls and then for the degree. So my “affaire d’amour” with France is 45 years old. Key players in this beautiful romance are the French Embassy and the Alliance Francaise,”
“Bonsoir was an audiovisual ‘experiment’ by the French Foreign Ministry and for the first time in a non-francophone country. There was apprehension at the beginning, but it worked. Yasmin and I joined the show almost together six months after its debut. The fact that we spoke French and had/have been to France made our communication firsthand and more convincing. It’s not for me to say it, but Bonsoir was a hit in its time. We have been told this several times over,” he added.
De Silva said that the program was born in the pre-Internet, pre-mobile phone era. Television meant only Rupavahini and ITN. Radio was only SLBC. “So we had a (perhaps compulsorily) captive audience. Every Monday night Bonsoir brought France, her language, culture, music, cuisine, literature, technology and sports directly into Sri Lankan sitting rooms,” he reminisced.
“When the Sinhala Bonsoir was launched, our reach was far greater. If the monthly quiz on the English Bonsoir brought us 500 postcards with the answers, the monthly quiz on the Sinhala Bonsoir brought us 5000+ postcards. We even got our own P.O Box number and I remember the French Embassy drivers grumbling and carrying sacks loads of postcards to our studio,” De Silva said.
“After Yasmin and I left Bonsoir in the early 2000s, I discovered to my horror much later that the old programs had vanished into thin air. There were no archives. They did not exist. What our successors did we will never know! The Bonsoir name kept popping up frequently as I got more and more involved with TV and hosted several other shows. It was then that Dilshan Boange, the ‘Bonsoir Boy’ after me and also a journalist, suggested that I write the Bonsoir story as a readable archive. That’s how The Bonsoir Diaries came into being. We did a 1000 copies and almost all are sold out,” he added.
“Yasmin Rajapakse and I get on like a house on fire and that’s putting it very, very mildly. Our tryst with France is karmic and inextinguishable. Well so much so that the both of us are back once again, re-cycled, older, grey-er, and wiser I hope, hosting “Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar,” he said.
This is indeed a new talk show hosted on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. It’s a kind of mini Bonsoir and the plus is it’s permanently out there on YouTube.
In recognition of their longstanding and continuing endeavours to promoting the French language and culture in Sri Lanka, the Government of France conferred on Kumar and Yasmin, the national honour of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters,
De Silva finally said that learning French has obvious benefits far beyond just speaking a new language.
“When I began learning French forty-five years I never realised how much the doors of the world would open to me. The world celebrates Francophonie Day today. The French language has always occupied a significant place among world languages. It is also the language of diplomacy, of cuisine, of romance, and the list goes on. So learning French is not just learning yet another foreign language. It is also about learning about the multiple facets of life and the world,” he said.
Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid,” goes the French Proverb. Little by little, the bird makes its nest! So start learning French or ‘life lessons’ and with time and effort, you will surely be able to achieve your goals!