High school students from across Niagara gathered at Brock on Wednesday, April 26 to compete in the 42nd annual Brock-Niagara French Contest. This is the first time the event has been held since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event was organized by Brock’s Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures (MLLC) in collaboration with the Niagara Catholic District School Board and local schools from Ontario’s French school boards, the Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir and the Conseil scolaire Viamonde.
“As Brock University’s mission has always been to foster relations with the community, this long-standing event gives students a first taste of the Brock campus and academic life,” says Astrid Heyer, Assistant Professor in the MLLC.
Students competed against their peers in three categories: core French, intensive French and first-language French. Working in teams, they attended two workshops offered by MLLC French professors and completed three hands-on challenges designed to test their French reading, writing and communication skills. At the end of the day, the three student groups with the highest total scores received gift cards for the Brock Campus Store.
“It’s a fun opportunity for them. They get to use French outside of the school environment and apply the skills they already have,” says Amandine Faivre (BA ’21, BEd ’21), a teacher whose students participated in the contest. She hopes the experience will inspire them to keep using French in their daily lives.
Faivre first got involved in the contest as a Grade 10 student who had just moved to Niagara from Quebec. She’d decided to enrol in an English high school to prepare for university but working in her second language was isolating and challenging at times.
“When I heard about that competition, I saw it as my chance to speak French and see the university that I knew I wanted to attend,” she says. “It was a chance to meet the French community and other French speaking people in the region.”
As a Brock student, Faivre volunteered as a monitor at the event, guiding student teams and helping to evaluate their French skills. She says serving as a monitor gave her a glimpse of her future career as an educator.
Now a teacher at Ecole Secondaire Catholique Saint-Jean-de-Brébeuf in Welland, she can empathize with students’ fears of speaking a subsequent language in public because of her experiences learning English and teaching French.
“French immersion students or French as a second language students are scared to speak in French because they might not have the proper accent or grammar. But that doesn’t matter because as long as you speak it, you’re trying. You’re taking one step forward. You have to gain confidence to be able to improve.”
Faivre says the contest offers an encouraging environment for French students at all levels to build that confidence by learning from each other.
Support for the event was provided by Brock University, local school boards, and local businesses and community organizations that represent the Francophone community in Niagara.