Swiss accents and using the Internet as a French teacher

Last week, on August 1st, I popped over to Radio Télévision Suisse to spend a couple of minutes celebrating the Swiss national holiday. While I was there, I spotted an article containing five “spoken portraits” of Swiss Francophones from different regions. Each portrait highlighted a different accent (or two) from Francophone Switzerland, and it was a lot of fun to spend part of my morning listening to each of these different accents, some of which were familiar to me from my time in Switzerland.

I’ve written before about how wonderful it is that the Internet can make cultural artifacts easily available to language teachers, but this was an especially nice resource to find because I specifically remember trying to find YouTube videos of Swiss accents as far back as five years ago (and arguing with classmates about whether the one video we could find was an authentic accent or just someone being goofy). One thing I always try to do when I’m in French teaching mode is to reinforce the idea that the Francophone world is more than just France (heck, more than just Paris). While the Internet—like any medium—tends to privilege dominant forms of expression, I think that it also makes more peripheral linguistic cultures accessible in a way that would be much harder than with just textbooks. Representing the French language as a monolith, when it’s full of regional and national variants, does it a disservice, and I think the Internet can help with that—I recently discovered the Francophone African word essencerie (instead of station-service) thanks to Wikipedia, and now it’s the word I always want to use for gas station!

It’s been over a year now since the last time I’ve taught French, but I still find myself bookmarking these resources just in case I get the chance to do it again!

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