Amazing People / Culture / St Helena

un peu de je ne sais quoi pour la Sainte-Hélène

An enthusiastic class of young pupils at Harford Primary School.
An enthusiastic class of young pupils at Harford Primary School.

Teaching French on St Helena | Alison Laycock

Bonjour à tous! This seems a fitting start as I am often greeted in Jamestown with welcoming shouts from my students wanting to say hello to me even when they are out of school! I take that as proof that they are enjoying learning French and practising it out of school. This weekend I have heard more shouts of “Bonjour Madame” which is only natural as we have extended lessons in the 3 Primary schools to incorporate years 3/4 which is perfect for language learning to start as early as possible.

Recently, I wrote a piece for the TES teacher’s paper which was published on 23rd January in which I started and ended by saying I have an amazing job and indeed I do, that feeling never wavers as for a start I am living and working on this beautiful island. When I sit and reflect on my teaching week and the students I have interacted with in all the schools as well as the adult and tourist office classes, I find myself smiling at their successes such as speaking French for the first time, getting up in front of the class for the first time, speaking confidently, joining in the lesson, volunteering for the first time, helping others in the class or simply finally getting their mouth around a particular expression they previously struggled with. The list could go on and on as there are so many things for students to be proud of themselves for.

The Wednesday afternoon adult class.
At the Wednesday afternoon adult class.
Game time for the adult class.
Game time for the adult class.
There are three primary schools on St Helena.
There are three primary schools on St Helena.
The students trying to beat their time with the fun 'French-Mexican wave'
The students trying to beat their time with the fun ‘French-Mexican wave’

In only 5 months, there have been some fantastic successes thanks to all those involved and it’s not just through the schools and students talking about it. Wherever I am, people often ask me questions about the teaching and learning, how are students doing, what is learning French like, how did you learn, what does this word mean and many more. When I walk into the bank and the Customer Service Officer greets me with Bonjour and çava and then asks if I am the French teacher my day is brightened in an instant and even more so when I am stopped by a parent telling me how much their child loves the lessons and is coming home excitedly speaking French.

When I started my journey on the RMS all of the above were simply hopes of what could be achieved and how much people would in fact embrace French not just as a subject at school but across the island, I could only dream of. The fact that it is being talked about so much is down to the community taking an interest and the students taking part so well in the lessons and I am so pleased that people feel they can come and share their comments/ questions with me.

Did you know that staff at the Tourist Office are learning French each week in order to be ready for the Napoleon Bicentenarycelebrations and for the French speaking tourists who will hopefully come once the airport is complete? They are all doing brilliantly and not only have to put up with lessons but also with me turning up on a Saturday and testing in French whoever is working!

Keeping active - Harford students having mini French conversations as they move around the classroom.
Keeping active – Harford students testing their French on different class mates with mini conversations.
No shortage of answers from the class.
No shortage of answers from the class.
Another way to learn - the adult class meeting at a local coffee shop, placing orders in French
Another way to learn – the adult class meeting at a local coffee shop, placing orders in French
Back in the regular classroom for the adults.
Back in the regular classroom for the adults.

Every Wednesday evening, I am joined by on average 15 adult learners who dedicate 1 hour and a half of their time after their working day to learn a new skill! These students consist of different personalities, varying abilities as well as various reasons for learning, however what they share is a great sense of humour, a willingness to learn and more importantly a commitment to share their knowledge and to encourage each other to learn and have fun. It’s a pleasure to know them and to see them develop just like school students do in confidence and their French speaking abilities.

Each half term, we hold a training session for the Year 5/6 teachers to come together as they are learning French in the hope that soon they will be teaching the curriculum in their schools with my assistance. All of them are doing brilliantly and I am so pleased with their progress and willingness to learn especially as the students in their classes will tell you how amazing it is for their teachers to take part. I watch their faces break into a huge grin each time their teacher joins in and speaks French and I’m sure through this that they are reminded of the importance of learning and that it can continue into adulthood.

Well, I must go plan for the French film crew who are here this week and will be in schools on Thursday to film lessons! There’s a sentence I never thought I would be writing!

À bientôt!

With the teachers and pupils after a class at Harford Primary School in Longwood.
With the teachers and pupils after a class at Harford Primary School in Longwood.

WTSDN note: Thank you to Alison for being our first guest writer on the blog


  1. Ceci est une histoire de bonnes nouvelles . Il est important d’apprendre d’autres langues dans une société mondialisée! Having French proficiency is useful in many parts of the world and French speaking tourists coming to the island will be thrilled to hear French being spoken on St Helena. Keep up the great work and “bonne chance” to all the second language learners.

    1. Thanks for your comment Susan. It’s good fun learning with Alison, although the test will come soon enough once French speaking visitors start arriving more regularly with the air service.

  2. Congratulations! I look forward to my next stay on St Helena, it will be even more interesting if Saints start talking to me in French! Why not listen to the famous Jean-Jacques Goldman song “Je te donne”, that is sang both in French and English…
    Drop me a line and I will send the song to whoever asks… by e-mail or using
    Bye for now, enjoy the Island, even more so with touch of French
    Take care and see you all soon,

    1. “Bonjour” is a greeting we’re hearing more and more around town. Hopefully we will get the chance to try out our skills soon when French speaking visitors come in on the new air service!

  3. Bonjour A Tous! an interesting document of the French language been taught on St Helena in it’s modern and an exciting time. As I cast my mind back to my childhood days and growing up and what I’ve gained in my life time was a wonderful experience, I often think I should have done more but Hay! I’m thankful and grateful for my life and the abilities, but one important factor I learnt is always deal graciously with the good and bad, never give up grab every opportunity you can. French teaching language in St Helena is such a amazing and healthy diet to our education and careers, we should always value and protect our teachers and those who learn.

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