A Window on ‘La Francophonie’

On découvre le Sénégal

Did you know that there are roughly 300 million French-speakers worldwide, making French the sixth most-spoken language in the world? Interestingly, due to rapid population growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, French is now the fastest growing language on the continent. In fact, Africa is now home to roughly two thirds of the global French-speaking population.

So, with this in mind, and La Semaine de la langue française et de la francophonie fast approaching – 13th – 21st March 2021, in case you were wondering – what better time to share ideas and inspiration for a unit of work on one of Africa’s most vibrant and exciting French-speaking nations: Senegal.

Over the past few years, I have been working to create a more globalised curriculum for the children that I teach, celebrating Francophone culture through curriculum weeks, themed days and links with schools from around the French-speaking world, including Guadeloupe, Rwanda and Djibouti (more on how to do this in a future post). This academic year, however, I have made it a target to start adapting my scheme of work to create units which marry together the linguistic and grammatical structures that children need to make the required progress in Key Stage Two with cultural elements, enabling them to discover more about the French-speaking world in a meaningful way. It was watching the fantastic BBC documentary ‘African Renaissance: When Art Meets Power’, fronted by Afua Hirsch, over the summer that inspired me to create this unit of work on Senegal for my Year 6 classes.

Introducing Senegal:

Senegal is continental Africa’s westernmost country. It’s about 1.5 times the size of England and has a population of around 16 million. Senegal gained its independence from France in 1960 but remains part of ‘la Francophonie’. While French is still the official language of Senegal, most people speak Wolof (the Wolof people being the largest ethic group within the country) and many people speak French as a second language, or not at all. In a six-week unit, it is never going to be possible to teach children everything about the focus country. Instead, my aim has been to devise a set of lessons, driven by the subject content of the Languages Programme of Study for Key Stage Two, which would also spark children’s interest in Senegal, hopefully inspiring them to go away and spend time researching the country independently.

For my Year 6, this is a really good revision unit, perfect for the the half term following an extended period of remote learning, which touches on elements covered in previous topics or year groups: the definite and partitive articles; adjective/noun order and agreement; musical instruments; and clothes.

My suggestion for the first in this series of lessons, gives children the opportunity to get a bit of a taste Senegalese culture through a couple of short video montages.

A nice video montage showing a range of scenes from Senegalese life, mostly in Dakar.
Video montage showing clips from different areas of Senegal, accompanied by a nice Afrobeats soundtrack (mostly in English, unfortunately).

Inspired by an idea shared by Suzi Bewell in her Keynote Speech at the recent ALL West of England online conference, I have also created a ‘virtual tour‘ of Dakar, using Genially, to give children the best chance of visualising the city.

The children’s thinking could be guided through prompt questions and class discussion to draw together their first impressions of the country. SEND children and those who find it harder to pick out key information, may benefit from an organiser, like this one.

It might also be interesting at this point to consider anything that the children found surprising and unpick, in a light-touch manner, whether the images they have seen have helped them question what they thought they knew about Senegal or Africa in general.

Once they have watched the clips and taken the virtual tour, the children can begin their own research, this time in French. I’ve included examples of a text that I created in Canva, written at three level of challenge, which children could choose from depending on their confidence levels.

Before tackling a text of any kind, I always encourage children to consider the techniques they will need to use in order to get the gist. It’s great for children to realise that they do not need to rely on a dictionary and can get a good grasp of the meaning of a text by using their knowledge of cognates (and false friends) as well as recalling key vocabulary and grammatical structures from previous units of learning. I also prompt them to read aloud, using their knowledge of letter strings, and colour-code their text as they go, before beginning to look up any unknown words. The aim is to give children the confidence to ‘have a good go’ at decoding an unfamiliar text, using the skills they already have as language-learners.

Musical Traditions:

Music and the oral tradition are an integral part of life in Senegal. At the heart of this sit les griots, a caste of musicians who hold, protect and pass on the traditional stories and music of the peoples of Senegal. Over the course of a couple of lessons, pupils could be encouraged to discover and learn the names of the traditional instruments that are used in Senegalese music, recapping the conjugation of regular ‘er’ verbs in the present; the masculine and feminine definite article; and bringing in the partitive to create sentences starting ‘Je joue du/de l’/de la…’ or ‘Il/elle joue du/de l’/de la…’

One of the most iconic and important instruments of Senegal is la kora, a traditional, twenty-one stringed instrument, much like a harp. This great little BBC documentary is probably too long for the children but is an interesting insight into the way in which the kora is made and could be useful background research for teachers. The website of award-winning griot Seckou Keita is also full of fantastic information about the traditional instruments used in Senegalese music, as well as the importance of les griots in the musical tradition of Senegal, and West Africa as a whole.

Drums are an important part of Senegalese musical tradition as is the kora, a 21-stringed harp.

Now is also a wonderful opportunity to get children expressing their opinions about particular instruments or musical styles and extending their sentences with reasons. After listening to clips of individual instruments, children could be encouraged to look up adjectives to describe the nature of the sound they produce (e.g. rythmique). These adjectives would then form the basis of more complex sentence-building to create phrases such as: ‘J’aime la musique du djembé parce que c’est rythmique’.

For those children with a strong interest in music, Senegal also has a thriving Hip Hop scene and they may want to spend some time finding out about the stars of the genre, many of whom refer to themselves a ‘modern-day griots‘. Other contemporary musicians, who have become globally recognised names, include Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal and Pape Diouf who are all known for the upbeat Senegalese musical style known as mbalax, which combines traditional instruments with more modern sounds.

Fantastic Fashion:

Dakar Fashion week is an incredible event, bringing together designers from all of the African continent to show off their creations, many of which fuse traditional African styles and fabrics with international ideas. This France 24 report, recorded in both French and English, is a really helpful introduction to Dakar Fashion Week for teachers.

Talking about Fashion Week would be a perfect opportunity for older pupils to revisit clothing vocabulary, along with adjectives of size and colour, with the addition of traditional Senegalese items such as le boubou, a loose-fitting garment worn on special occasions by many men and women in West Africa, and le moussor, a headscarf.

Due to the pandemic, Dakar Fashion Week 2020, which took place in December, had to be moved out of the capital and into a baobab forest just outside of the city. Inspired by Annika Hammerschlag‘s amazing photographs of the event, as reported by BBC World News, my children will be planning and writing a set of descriptions for a selection of the outfits shown, using adjectives of size, length and colour to talk about the garments in detail. Images can be used for free if shown directly to children from the BBC website or, alternatively, Annika is happy to be contacted by teachers who wish purchase any of her images for use within the classroom.

This short clip, also from the BBC, helps to demonstrate the variety and vibrancy of the clothes on show at Dakar Fashion Week 2020 and the unique setting in which it took place.

A great little clip for introducing Dakar Fashion Week 2020, subtitled in English to help with comprehension.

To finish the unit, and before a more formal assessment, the children will have a chance to use Deck Toys to revisit the key language features, following one of two paths to enable all pupils to access the learning at their level.

Senegalese culture is incredibly rich and there are many other aspects which could easily form the basis of a really engaging unit of work including, but not limited to: art and artists (particularly the graffiti art of Dakar and the Dakar Biennale); sport (including the national sport of laamb); animals and their habitats; and traditional tales.

For further reading, the following books and websites are particularly helpful for getting an overview of the history and culture of Senegal:

Senegal: Enchantment of the World. Ruth Bjorklund. Published by Scholastic.

15 contes du Sénégal. Jean Muzi. Published by Flammarion Jeunesse.

Les enfants de l’antilope. Souleymane Mdodj and Zaü. Published by Rue du Monde.

TV5 Monde for a variety of clips on all aspects of life in Senegal (use the search tool in the ‘Culture’ section to bring up a range programming).

How do you incorporate the French, Spanish or German-speaking worlds into your lessons? Have you found any resources that you think are invaluable for creating a more globalised MFL Curriculum? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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