Canadians in L.A. join French classes

French Canadians living in Los Angeles want their children to learn the language. (Fotolia)

French Canadians living in Los Angeles want their children to learn the language. (Fotolia)

LINDA MASSARELLA, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:38 PM ET

LOS ANGELES -- When Michel Giroux's American wife gave birth to their daughter 15 years ago in L.A., he promised himself he would raise the girl speaking his native French.

For the first few years, Giroux -- who moved away from his Charlemagne, Quebec, home in 1993 to pursue water skiing, modelling and "whatever life had to offer" and ended up living here -- taught little Mikayla words and phrases such as "chien" (dog) and "maison" (house) and even, "vas laver les mains" (wash your hands).

"She was speaking it," said Giroux, 46, now vice president of sales for a fashion eyewear company.

But, as it often does, life got in the way. "When I came home at night, I was just too tired to force her to speak French."

Rene Villeneuve is another father of French-Canadian pedigree who lives in Los Angeles.

"I want my daughters speaking my first language," said Villeneuve, who is a distant cousin of Jacques, and his father, Gilles, and also happens to be a race car driver in Southern California since moving to the area about 20 years ago.

"Do you know how hard that is when you live in a place where all of their peers are taking Spanish?"

The children of Villeneuve, 42, and Giroux are typical of the students who make up French classes in Los Angeles.

According to interviews with local high-school French teachers by QMI Agency, about 25% to 35% of all students who enroll in the French courses are of Canadian ancestry.

"I don't know if the French classes would even exist here in Los Angeles if we didn't have Canadian parents enrolling their children," said Fataneh Tabatabai, the chairman of the French department at Taft High School in the San Fernando Valley section of L.A.

"American parents want their children to take Spanish because that's the second language spoken in this area."

John Carpenter has been the sole French teacher at Agoura High School, another school in the northern part of Los Angeles, for the past 12 years.

Without fail, he said, between 25% and 30% of all his students -- close to 2,000 students so far -- have had at least one parent who's Canadian, though Canadians comprise less than 1% of L.A.

"We don't keep statistics on these things, but it's something French teachers observe."

Carpenter believes children of Canadian parents do better in his courses because they have a parent at home who keeps them motivated.

"I see French-Canadian parents who have to speak to their children in English because they need them to fit in to the California culture. And they really regret it.

"This is why they send them to me."

Giroux said since his daughter has been in Carpenter's class, father and daughter started reconnecting again in French.

"It's helped," he said. "Mama back home is very happy about it!"

For her part, Mikayla says she's happy to please her father -- and also take a language that's far more exotic than Spanish.

"I would some day like to talk and understand my dad's side of the family," said Mikayla, who has already attended several family reunions in the Montreal area and no longer wants to be left out of the conversations.

Villeneuve said he has given his daughter, Isabelle, 13, no choice in what second language to take in high school this September.

"We live in the States, but our French-Canadian heritage is a big part of our lives."

"Yes, Isabelle's friends are taking Spanish and it's a lot easier language and more fashionable. But when someone takes French here, there's usually a reason behind it."

Carl Stier, another French student, freely admits he is studying the language because "my mother makes me."

His mother, the 15-year-old explains, is from Toronto and is bilingual. They often speak French in the home.

"I'm happy to take French, it's probably my most important subject right now," he said.

Stier, who's in Grade 10, says after high school he'd like to move to Canada to study.

"I'd really love to go to McGill (University) in Montreal. It's what's keeping me motivated when I study hard French grammar, like the subjunctive."


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