French connection

Siegmund Baldszun

There they sit in front of me: a class 9, thirty-eight pupils with German, but also English, Italian, Greek, Brazilian, Syrian, Eritrean, Tunisian roots – each one an individual. They carry a mobile in their pocket and some of them come from complicated family backgrounds, often they have health problems, illnesses, disabilities, completely different aptitudes – in short, a real, modern, globalised Waldorf class full of expectations about the upper school they are just starting and a feeling of excited optimism. Openness ... 

And there it lies before me, the little book Septembre d’Or by Wilfried N’Sondé, a book to be read in schools, published in 2011, 40 pages, an original text in simple language. Malik reports in diary form about his life in Senegal and his sudden move to a Parisian suburb where his father has been working for years as a street cleaner. The small novel, illustrated with sketches, captivates the reader with its bright , sunny style. Wilfried N’Sondé writes about real things, in a directly accessible style. His book makes a welcome change from other school reading matter on this subject because he throws a light on the worries and hardships of integration in a completely different, quiet, unspectacular way.

We start work. Looking back, it consists of three clear phases: getting started on the book in a way that awakens interest; steadily working our way through and deepening our understanding of the novel; and a concluding review in which we harvest the fruits of our work.

The start

We begin by talking about the title page, in English or French, everyone as suits them best. What counts is the authentic feeling, the personal impression. What is concealed behind the title Golden September? What behind the cover? Whereby, as it subsequently turns out, it is the homely feeling of the island Gorée, but also the warm, sunny atmosphere of the start of school in Paris when Malik finds a girlfriend, Naima.

Sections of text are studied in the course of the week using various methods: recounted by the teacher in a lively way, presented by small groups, revealed through describing the pictures, understood using vocabulary lists, read by pupils taking various roles, explained through questions. Slowly we get to know the individual characters, can paint a portrait of them, can talk about how they behave and the situation and environment in which they live. Comparisons with own experiences in France, Germany, abroad gradually create concentric circles around our work with the book. They key thing is the content. That is fundamental for the pupils at this age. Vocabulary tests and grammatical instruction remain clearly subordinate. In this way our “project” acquires a real life of its own for the pupils. The creative, written homework allows everyone to express themselves in accordance with their abilities. The book leads to own texts, some of them longer, some of them shorter, but always individual.

A novel is continued

It is not until this point that the idea is raised of contacting the author. The pupils are surprised that something like that is possible. Real life is knocking at the door. For the final assignment (proof of competence), which gives each pupil a choice of a wide range of written tasks, own continuations of the novel are written. The pupils also get the opportunity to review the work we have done and say what they think about it. We send the comments from the pupils and the new chapters to Wilfried N’Sondé through the publisher – our Francophone pupils draft the letter – and are hugely pleased when a response arrives a few weeks later. It shows us how important the encounter with his readers can also be for the author.

Cher Monsieur,

c'est avec une réelle émotion que j'ai lu votre lettre et les commentaires de vos élèves. Ce geste vers moi me touche beaucoup, j'ai apprécié la variété des impressions autant que leur franchise. Les suites que les uns et les autres ont imaginé à l'histoire de Malik, c'est encourageant de noter qu'au final l'amour l'emporte ...

Je vous prie de remercier et saluer chaleureusement vos élèves de ma part pour avoir pris la peine de s'adresser à moi. Il m'arrive de passer à Stuttgart, la prochaine fois je vous préviendrai pour une éventuelle rencontre. Merci à vous aussi pour cette initiative, un vrai régal pour un auteur!

Très amicalement, Wilfried N'SONDÉ


Several months had passed, in which not every lesson was spent working on the book. We did not manage to do a lot of the things which still could have been done with this reading matter. So what remains? The feeling that for this class it was the right way in terms of content, form and method. We’ve done it. We were united by a mysterious but satisfying process which will be difficult to understand for outsiders. For all of us together, teacher and pupils, our reading in the foreign language brought human encounters, new experiences, discussions of vital first questions about life;  and in doing so were able to forget that most of this was happening in a foreign language. To that extent our work was an example of the way in which teaching in a foreign language can also take account of the general educational goal, not just the language-learning one: growth of our understanding of the world and ourselves, refinement of our listening and experiential capacity, world citizenship, strengthening the I and our ability to engage in dialogue.

About the author: Siegmund Baldszun is a French teacher at the Stuttgart-Uhlandshöhe Free Waldorf School and lecturer at the Freie Hochschule Stuttgart