Penn program seeks French speakers to assist Francophone students at Lea

When learning to speak a foreign language, the best way to master it is through practice, practice, and more practice.

French language learners at Penn are learning to parlez vous Francais through a program that pairs them with West Philadelphia elementary school students from the Francophone diaspora, which includes African countries formerly colonized by France such as Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Benin, and Niger.

The Francophone Community Partnership (FCP), now in its second year, is a unique language learning and cultural exchange program in which Penn students learn about Francophone cultures and French language while supporting Francophone students at West Philadelphia’s Henry C. Lea School in developing English language skills.

Participants and Lea students are matched 1:1 or 1:2, with some groups sized differently based on the number of participants and proficiency levels. The FCP program activities complement a new French course being offered this year to students at Lea.

Some of the Lea students are recent immigrants, often proficient French speakers. Others are heritage French learners: first and second-generation immigrant children whose parents are French speakers.

Fiona Moreno, a third-year Ph.D. student studying French and Francophone studies, coordinates the program, which she founded when she served as a graduate assistant and program director at Gregory College House. In its pilot phase last year, the FCP was part of Gregory’s Modern Languages Program.

Initially, nine Penn undergraduates were involved in the program. Penn sophomores Nichole Bryant and Faustine Sun, who volunteered last year, are now employed part-time as assistant program leaders paid through work-study funding from Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

This year, the program is open to all Penn students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the community. The 2015-16 FCP program will start on Tuesday, Sept. 8. Sessions will be held every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. during the school year.

Volunteer participants must meet clearance requirements and have at least an intermediate-beginner level of French, as well as an interest in the Francophone world.

An online volunteer signup form outlining what will be expected of volunteers can be viewed at 

Moreno says the program seeks motivated French-speaking or learning volunteers.  

“French speakers who also speak one or more African languages will be especially welcome, although this is far from a requirement,” she says.

The FCP is also seeking donations of books or other supplies for the Little Francophone Library established last year in Lea’s library with the support of individual donors and the Penn Libraries.

“Donated books will be a precious resource for all students, as French is now part of the curriculum at Lea,” Moreno says.

An information session for prospective volunteers will be held today, Thursday, Sept. 3, from 6 to 7 p.m. in Meyerson Hall, 210 South 34th St., Room B-13. Additional information is available by emailing

Audio of the FCP participant’s multilingual work and Penn student accounts of what they learned last year is posted on a FCP SoundCloud page, as well as on the program’s Facebook page.

Francophone Community Partnership