Tuesday, March 30, 2010

French Yoga; Considering Minorities and Culture

Today was an 'immersed in my Acadian Heritage' day. I know I have spoken briefly about how I am Acadienne and currently I have been working hard with providing speech-language pathology services in French for the Francophone-Acadian population of the province. For those who have never experienced a minority language situation, services in your first language make the world of a difference. Especially in a country with two official languages (French and English) and a province with a significant Francophone-Acadian population.

In Halifax alone there are approximately 10,000 first language French speakers, which doesn't count bilingual speakers. It is estimated that there are 95 000 self identified French-Acadians in Nova Scotia. I have encountered so many families who struggle significantly in English, and as a result the Francophone-Acadian community is extremely isolated from the 'anglo' community.

Imagine trying to learn and grow in your practice while at the same time trying decipher what the h*ll the teacher is saying... It's not like a visual demonstration is ever enough (or we'd all just rent DVD's and watch them on mute). We're not always able to look up and watch- we rely heavily on verbal instruction. When you're trying your best to make it through a fast paced class, muddling through understanding what the teacher is actually saying doesn't make for an ideal learning environment. For those of us who have tried, it is mentally exhausting.

How wonderful to offer yoga classes for this significant population!

Unfortunately there are many considerations and marketing specifics in order to best let the community know about a French Yoga class.

When advertising a service that historically has never been available, a very important first step is to market and educate the target community. Making phone calls to local French community centres, contacting local French parent organizations etc. The next step would be to actually provide translated documents- posters, pamphlets or sections of the website. There are actually government funded programs that offer translation services for local organizations. 

It is extremely important to recognize that just because many Francophone speakers (at least here in NS) understand English, that stating there is a class offered in French, in written English, isn't extremely welcoming or inclusive. Why would a Francophone speaker go looking through an English website for information? In Halifax, the best way to inform the Francophone community is through word of mouth. Many individuals here are on the military base, not part of newsletters or Anglophone groups, new 'immigrants' and wouldn't have a clue where to look for this information. A fantastic strategy would be to approach the coordinator of Francophone services at the Military centre herself, and by word of mouth individuals will come.

Finally, the Acadian aspect. Here in Nova Scotia, Acadians (who settled here in the late 15 and early 1600's from France) have a long history of cultural repression and abuse. In 1755 'La déportation' occurred, where Acadians were herded and deported en masse, families separated, houses burned, women abused and raped. A mass forced exodus occurred, with only some tiny villages managing to keep their land from the British (my village was one of them). (Drapeau Acadien)

Fast foward 300 years or so of being told our French was sub-standard, that our culture and Heritage was "less" and you get an entire population of French speakers who do not recognize their right to services. Often we are intimidated by Québecois or France French, rather speaking in English to avoid explaining our 'accent' or archaic grammar-vocabulary. Despite being more comfortable in French, it depends on the speaker as to whether access is initiated (if you'd like specific research results on these statements, please email me, I have them at work)

What this really would look like in a Yoga class: Say you indicate that you could help support someone in French during class if needed... but the class had other anglophone speakers. Also, say that your teacher is Francophone-Québecoise. Research would suggest that the Acadian student would be less likely to 'bother' the teacher with a special request just for her. She understands English, so even though French would be more comfortable, it would be considered rude to ask. Also, if the teacher is Qc French, it's likely the student will not feel comfortable even speaking in French to them. The result, the instructor and studio owner assumes there is no need and may potentially stop offering the service.

What does this have to do with Yoga in Halifax? Offering a French Yoga service in Halifax would be a wonderful and culturally sensitive addition to the Yoga community. It would allow a space for a huge proportion of Yogis who are English second language, to practice Yoga in an open and welcoming environment. It would be unique, it would be welcome...

If only the anglophone community recognized the cultural and linguistic needs. Just because I can understand English, does not mean that I wouldn't love a yoga class in French.

Many Blessings!
*article adjusted April 2nd 2010, please see comment below

article copyright of EcoYogini at ecoyogini.blogspot.com


  1. While I (unfortunately, and perhaps sadly) don't speak French, I agree this would be awesome. I am half Acadian-French on my mothers side, and always proudly distinguish that from Quebecois-French when people ask my background.
    I live in Ontario but can't wait to one day visit the east coast to explore the culture! I hope they are able to bring that class back with some well-thought out advertising (and perhaps willingness to try again!)

  2. Sounds like you would be perfect for the job!

  3. I'm from the East Coast of the USA and don't speak a lick of French (though I am told my pronunciation is good!), but as you probably know, many of the exiled Acadians ended up in Louisiana in the southern USA. Now they're Cajuns! It amazes me how we can trace history through language and migration. I wonder how linguistically similar your French and Cajun French are.

  4. Very disappointing that they've discontinued the class. If you can get it going again, I'd love to hear more about it. I'm sure bilingual English-Spanish classes would be amazingly helpful in Denver, where I live, but I've not heard of any offered. I'll have to look into that further.

  5. I am French, I live in French-speaking Belgium, so I have never experienced being part of the minority. My boyfriend and I are considering moving to Canada (yes - don't ask when), and your post has given me something to think over. I can't tell you how right now, I'll let it sink in, but merci beaucoup :-)

  6. I live in New Orleans and my yoga teacher is from France. The French Alliance here tried to offer a french yoga class but they made minimal effort to publicize so no one signed up and it was canceled. So he offered a 4 week french yoga course at our studio which he publicized a bit more, making it more of a bilingual class so both french and english speakers came.
    In order for cultural programs to be successful they require more work than just making something available. Like you said many of these groups are experiencing isolation and struggles navigating new systems. Community leaders need to make the extra effort of exploring the best ways to connect with disadvantaged groups. It can be done, usually through liaison figures in the target community.

  7. Callah: Yay Acadian!! If you're ever this way- let me know :)

    Rebecca: awww, thanks. someday, if I become an instructor, French classes will be a must :)

    VB: Cajuns come from "Cadian"-Acadian! :) So yep, very cool! Actually, they have some similarities, (and I know I have some distant cousins who come up for the Réunion every year), but their French meshed with local dialects and changed slight. Such is the beauty of language.

    Moving Meditation: Yes, I think Bilingual Spanish-English for the states would be so beautiful and inclusive! Keep me updated into your searches!

    Emma: I HEART Belgian French so much... because you say 'octante, nonante et septante'... instead of 'quatre-vingt dix' etc. We say: 'huiptante, nenante et septante' (wrong order but ya know).

    Actually, it would definitely depend on where you move in Canada. Qc is very open to accepting Belgians, and Ontario would be inclusive as well.
    New Brunswick, it would depend on what region-city-town (Moncton and the upper regions would be more 'french') and it IS officially a bilingual province (all the signage has BOTH english and french- so the stop signs say 'arrêt, stop' on them, it's cute!).

    Nova Scotia... well, certain pockets have more French than others, obviously Halifax is mostly anglo. Some acadian regions like Clare region and Pubnico are very french, but VERY isolated.

    All the best, and if you want more info on the French climate (from someone who has lived in Qc, BC, NB and NS) let me know :)

  8. oops: Lulu: WOW, that sounds fabulous!! what a fantastic opportunity, and so great that it was re-evaluated and tried again, with better marketing.
    So true, more needs to be done to get the message out there, and in the end we create a more cohesive, open Yoga community. :)

  9. This is very cool - and very disappointing. (I mean that the class had been canceled.) I totally agree that it would be such a great service for native French speakers, and that it really needs to put the word out so people know about it.

    Oh, I'm so jealous of a bilingual city. I wish we were more like - we have enough Spanish speakers. But some Americans are so resistant to that, darnit. And wish I had taken Spanish in school, too, though I LOVE French!! If only we had French settlements in the West. Oh well...

  10. Wow. What an interesting article.

  11. this is information i *never* feel like i would have known otherwise. definitely not taught in us schools, needless to say :)

  12. Hi, fyi, the class in question was marketed to the french community, albeit in a limited way this first try. A fully translated description was sent out via email to all our members and posted at the french school in our community. we used the full translation on facebook as well as on our website. our teacher also sent it to everyone she knows in the french community with invitation to pass it along. we will try again but we are new studio open just over 6 months and would not survive with classes of 1-3 people :(. For now a french student looking for a class is always welcome to attend the 730 class at Breathing Space in Dartmouth, NS with Renee Auffrey who would be delighted to offer translation of her instructions should they be required :) I promise we will try again as we were super-psyched to offer this! if you live in our community and are interested in this class please email me directly. (please post this in french wherever you like ecoyogini),
    In Light & Love,

  13. I've been reading your blog and really like your insight! I don't speak French beyond what I took in high school, but I was born in Brazil and didn't speak English until I moved here at the age of seven. I remember the fear of speaking up in classes -- this lasted well into college -- because I thought my accent (which eventually disappeared) and vocabulary would set me apart from others. So I can completely empathize! I think all those ESL classes kind of drilled in the idea that non-native speakers are never quite as "good" as native speakers.

  14. Hey, if English was good enough for the authors of the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras, it's good enough for me...

    (Kinda paraphrasing somebody in the southern U.S. who said "if English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me." Xenophobia and shocking ignorance of the rest of the world--woo hoo!)

  15. Thanks for this. Do any of you happen to know of studios that teach classes in French in the US?


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