Alliance Francaise
mage © Alliance française

Schools around the world have moved to teaching online, and Alliance Française (AF) USA chapters have done the same with their French lessons, many for the first time. The goal is to rester en forme with the French language from learning conjugations to conversing tout en français with a group of people, but now students and teachers are one of several boxes on a computer screen competing for digital time and being assigned digital tests and homework.

“Some (students) are enrolling because the classes are online,” said Upi Struzak, President, Alliance Française Silicon Valley. “This must be a new age for us! I am looking forward to how this situation evolves.”

Alliance Française was founded in Paris in 1883 as an organization that promoted learning the French language and experiencing francophone culture around the world. Today, it supports 834 chapters in 133 countries. The AFUSA had 100+ chapters all providing a variety of French classes and conversations.

But with the current coronavirus situation, attending French class has changed. The call to learn the French language “with us” should change to “venez célébrer le français online avec nous.”

The challenge for all chapters is to move their classes online. This is a new world for many teachers and students who are not as knowledgeable or comfortable with technology and communicating when everyone is relegated to a digital box on the computer screen. Plus it’s important to keep costs under control. And learning French online is not FaceTime with family.

“The biggest challenge was to find in a very limited time a platform for the online classes that would be easy to use and simple to administrator for our school director, so that we can help our teachers at any given time,” said Struzak. “We also needed to find the cheapest solution as we have only half of the usual number of students. We are using Teams that comes with our non-profit free account.”

The Alliance Française San Francisco (AFSF), the first AF in the US, was also one of the first to move their classes online. They were already planning to make the move and one week before the San Francisco Bay Area was given shelter in place orders, the teachers and administrators were being trained and practicing on two platforms (think of a platform as an app) for online classes and tests. All classes went online March 17, a day after the shelter in place orders.

“Everyone was enthusiastic and … did a great job in training,” said Noemie Herail, Director of the Cultural Center, AFSF. “We all tried super hard to feel as comfortable as possible so we could not feel the difference between teaching online and on site.”

Alliance Francaise
Image © Alliance française

For Alliance Française Washington D.C. (AFDC), a big challenge was training instructors to work with Zoom, a video conferencing platform, but the online challenges also extended to students.

“Our other big challenge was to convince some elderly people who take classes with us and who are not comfortable using the technology that online classes are real-time, interactive classes, and can be as functional as in-person classes,” said Ameneh Madjlessi, Deputy and Academic Director, AFDC.

It’s typically adults who take AF classes and, according to Madjlessi, it’s a challenge sometimes for them to remain focused when they have children at home.

“After a whole day of remote working in front of their computers, it is very hard to stay another two hours looking at the screen,” Madjlessi said. “Even for conversation workshops, participating could sometimes be a challenge.”

Herail at AFSF also noted some difficulties with today’s blended learning of the online lessons paired with autonomous practice, exercises and tests.

“Everyone is stuck at home and they can feel like there is too much screen time,” said Herail. “In addition, there may not be enough screens available in a home if there is only one computer and maybe an iPad. Having the basic equipment itself can be a problem for students.”

But online classes may have found their time. They are not totally new to some chapters (such as AFSF) and have proven popular. The AFDC has been offering online private classes for the past 12 years and the number of students taking private online classes has doubled each year for the past three years.

Alliance Francaise
Image © Alliance française

“All instructors … were very open and adapted to online teaching with ease and openness,” said Madjlessi. 

Perhaps French General Lafayette should change his lyrics in the Broadway play Hamilton to “Online French – Alliance Française gets the job done.”

Here are some of the Alliance Française chapters that are offering online French classes now and in the near future. Check your local chapter for information.

Alliance Française San Francisco – check classes here.

Alliance Française Silicon Valley – check classes at here.

Alliance Française Sacramento – check classes here.

Alliance Française Washington D.C. – check classes here.

Alliance Française Chicago – check classes here.

Alliance Française Portland – check classes here.

Alliance Française Boston – check classes here.

Alliance Française New York – check classes here.

Alliance Française Los Angeles – check classes here.

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Martha Sessums is the France Today Ambassador for San Francisco. Intrigued by France since her first stroll along the Seine, Martha and her husband often travel to Paris to explore the city and beyond. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, delighting in its strong Francophone and French culture community. She was a high-tech public relations executive and currently runs a non-profit continuing education organization.

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