For many of this nation’s schoolchildren, learning French will evoke memories of dully repeating vocab lists from textbooks full of smiling, tracksuited young Europeans.
A group of ten from schools around Hackney have spent the last two weeks getting a much livelier experience of the Romance language, culminating an open-to-all performance of the musical version of classic nun caper Sister Act, this Friday 25 August.
The children were taught the language, through theatre, under the tutelage and artistic direction of Kemi Dowokpor from Hackney-based Mind Your Language International. The group often run summer camps in French and English, featuring theatre alongside sports, cooking, and other Francophone fun, in support of the London BME French-speaking community.
Dowokpor believes that theatre is a participatory process that helps children to connect to the new words and concepts that come with language acquisition:
“Drama is such an expressive medium that both the text and my art come to life in any language. Language is also a lot about confidence, and that’s something theatre can help with.”
The morning event will kick off at 11:30am with a screening of last year’s Swiss-French stop-motion flick Ma Vie de Courgette (My Life as a Courgette) – a heartwarming animation that has a rare 100% rating on critical aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. (Note: whilst entrance to the play is free, the Rio will require you to purchase a ticket to Ma Vie de Courgette – see prices at bottom.)
Following the film, Dowokpor’s “brave local youth…step out of their comfort zones and go on the big stage for the first time”, a moment she eagerly anticipates, and one she knows they will “definitely” pull off.
The performance is abridged, and some of the script (in particular the narration) is in English, to help the performers and audience along.
French is the 5th most widely spoken language in Hackney according to the 2011 census (Word doc link), ahead of German, Yiddish and Bengali.
Some dialogue from Sister Act, en Francais…
Révérend mère: Alors vous voulez que je mente?
Monsignor: Pas du tout! Je la baptise donc Marie Soeur Marie Clarence!
To learn more about Mind Your Language International CIC, visit their website