LEWISTON, Maine — There is a new French-speaking club that gathers at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston. The purpose of the club is to speak solely in French with other people who want to practice the language that once thrived in parts of Maine.
"J'aime ça parler français parce que j'ai parlé français quand j'étais jeune. I like to speak French because I spoke French when I was young," Jan Sullian, one of the French club organizers, said.
"Ce programme c'est pour ceux qui parlent français, un [petite] peu, et ceux qui veulent améliorer leur vocabulaire, ceux qui veulent apprendre à parler mieux en français. This program is for those who speak French a little and those who want to improve their vocabulary, those who want to learn to better speak French," Sullivan added.
Sullivan said she was raised in a French speaking home. She married an American and has not practiced the language much at all. She credits the French-speaking African residents who live in Lewiston for her interest in rekindling her French language.
"The Franco Center was nice enough to offer us their space for meetings," Sullivan said.
Terry Clavet came to the French club. She said French was the language spoken at home when growing up.
"Parce que j'aime le français beaucoup. C'était ma premiere langage, chez nous on parlait toujours français, et quand j'étais à l'école à Saint Pierre on avait le français le matin et l'anglais l'après-midi, et alors j'ai pas perdu mon français beaucoup. Because I love French a lot, it was my first language. At home, we always spoke French, and when I was at school in Saint Pierre, we had French in the morning and English in the afternoon, so I haven't lost my French a lot," Clavet said.
The group targets beginner and intermediate French speakers, and it's free to attend.
"Il y a beaucoup des mots que nous avons transféré l'anglais avec le français, alors les a mêlés, et puis en étudiant comme ça tout ensemble on trouve les mots, les vrais mots, pas les mots qu'on a fait nous-autres mêmes. There's a lot of words that we've transferred, English with French, so mixed them up, and by studying like this all together we find the words, the real words, not the words that we've made up ourselves," Clavet explained.
"We were all called like French frogs and we were all put down cause we sounded stupid cause we spoke French, we were kind of pushed aside, and so we had to learn English. I couldn't even go to the bathroom in school if I couldn't say it in English, I mean that's how it was," Clavet said, remembering when she and others were bullied for speaking French.
Clavet said her children and grandchildren don't speak the language at all.
Franco Center board member Michel Lajoie hopes more kids get excited to learn the language.
"What we want to do is, we want to keep it alive. We want to make it interesting for the youngsters to be able to come here and learn," he said.