‘I will not speak French in school’

Don Levesque, Special to The County
4 months ago

Quand j’ai commencé l’école a Grand Isle, les bonne sœurs on commencer de nous enseigner le chinois. Well, c’tais pas du chinois, c’tais d’l’anglais mais c’aurais pu être du chinois en cause que nous autres on connaisais pas la difference entre le chinois pi l’anglais. C’est deux langues que personne parlais par che’ nous.

It wasn’t easy learning such a foreign language and many of my classmates struggled. I was not so bad because my mother was a musician and she loved that new-fangled rock ‘n’ roll and Elvis. So, in our house music was playing in a language that I soon realized was English. Before this they were just meaningless sounds like “aw shook up, uh huh-huh!”

I was angry at the nuns for a long time for robbing us of our culture or lying to us about the French we spoke, telling us it was only a jargon no one understood. They punished us cruelly if we were caught speaking French. We had to copy 500 or a 1,000 times “I will not speak French in school.”

But later in life I realized that they were only doing their jobs (although sometimes with too great an enthusiasm) and obeying Maine law.

I wrote a song about that:

I will not speak French in school

A p’tite école on étais punis 

Pour parler l’français qu’on avais apris

Les soeurs nous poignais a parler français 

Pi nous autres a Grand Isle faulais qu’on copiais

I will not speak French in school

I will not speak French in school

I will no speak French in school

Les soeurs nous disais d’pas parler français

Parce que personne comprenais l’français qu’on aimais

Le français d’Grand Isle s’t’au comme rien qu’on y pense

Les soeurs voulais qu’on appreinent le français de France

It’s not a chulotte it’s un pantalon

It’s not un truck, it’s un camion

It’s not starté, it’s démarrré

It’s attaché, not amarrée

I will not speak French in school

I will not speak French in school

I will no speak French in school

En arriére d’l’école ont s’rencontrais

Pour parler l’français qu’on aimais

Les soeurs nous pognais a parler français 

Pi nous autes a Grand Isle faulais qu’on copiais

I will not speak French in school

I will not speak French in school

I will no speak French in school

It’s not a patate, it’s a pomme de terre 

It’s not un ochais, it’s a vers de terre

It’s a remise and not a shed

It’s décédé not môrt b’en raide

I will not speak French in school

I will not speak French in school

I will no speak French in school

Les soeurs nous bavassais

Pi les soeurs nous avartisais,

“Boys and girls, you better not let me catch you speaking French in school!

If I catch you speaking French in school, you’ll have to copy 1,000 times … “

 I will not speak French school

 I will not speak French in school

I will not speak French in school

Don Levesque is a Grand Isle native who worked in community journalism for almost 35 years. He was the publisher and editor of the St. John Valley Times for 15 years prior to retiring in 2010. He wrote a weekly newspaper column, called Mon 5¢, in the Valley Times for more than 20 years. He has been inducted into the Maine Journalism Hall of Fame and the Maine Franco-American Hall of Fame.