Burundi Star in Portland resounded with voices speaking French on March 17 as francophone Mainers gathered to share the pleasure of speaking the language with each other. Some of those present were French teachers, most – but not all – U.S. born; others were African immigrants from francophone countries.

Conversation centered on an exchange of ideas about how to keep the language alive among children from francophone families who are growing up speaking primarily English in Maine. Georges Budagu Makoko, publisher of Amjambo, father of three children, and polyglot, spoke about how sad it is to lose a language, and encouraged efforts at keeping the language alive. When he sang a bit of a song in French, and spoke of the nostalgia associated with the language for him, many of those present joined in singing.

Maine is home to the fastest-growing population of French speakers in North America, said  Marceau Crespo, K-12 Education Director from the French Consulate in Boston, who drove up for the occasion. This growth is due to the presence of communities of Africans from francophone countries such as Burundi, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, DR Congo, Guinée, Rwanda, and many others.

Crespo spoke about the desire of the Consulate to foster a close relationship with Maine, and detailed programs aimed at preserving the language. These include a program to fast-track potential French teachers through training sessions and into teaching positions in U.S. schools.

Going forward, francophone speakers are invited to drop by Burundi Star on the first Saturday of each month at 10:00 a.m. for informal conversation.

The gathering was hosted by the Alliance Française of Maine; AATF, Maine Chapter; Amjambo Africa, Consulat Général de France à Boston; University of Southern Maine Department of Linguistics.