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Project leader, Québec : Catherine Maynard

Project Leader, Quebec: Catherine Maynard

Assistant Professor – University of Laval (Canada)

Department of Languages, Linguistics and Translation


Plurilingual Kamishibaï contest since 2018

Interview conducted by Delphine Leroy via video-conference on June 22, 2021, within the framework of the Erasmus+ Kamilala project

The context

In Quebec, the only official language is French! It is the only province in Canada that is in this situation. We are a minority of francophones in Canada, but a majority of francophones in Quebec. This situation has nothing to do with neighboring Ontario, for example, where a minority is francophone and the majority is anglophone.

In Quebec, students are educated in French and English is taught as a second language. But the situation regarding the French language remains complex. There is a form of insecurity surrounding this language. Many teachers are afraid that the French language will become more precarious as a language of use, especially because of the province’s geographical location. Quebec is surrounded by English-speaking provinces and is very close to the United States. In addition, the languages of immigration may appear to be a threat. In my opinion, they are not at all, but they may seem so to some. It’s as if Quebec were the little village of Asterix, always in fear of having to “resist” for the French language to survive…

In Quebec, with the Charter of the French Language, also known as “Bill 101”, immigrants are required to attend school in French, with a few exceptions. This law represents an important moment in the history of the French language in Quebec. At the time, linguistic inequities were more pronounced, it was more fragile.

The French language persists, thanks to the schools which contribute to its systematic learning. Francophone schools make up the vast majority of Quebec schools. For many (future) teachers, the teaching of French as a second language aims to promote the “French fact” and the francization of immigrants.

English school service centers operate a few schools, but it is definitely not the norm. In English schools, French as a second language courses are compulsory from elementary school onwards, and in order to obtain a high school diploma, you must pass the French as a second language course.

In Quebec, we live in a multicultural, multilingual environment because of the presence of people from immigrant families. I think that’s a dimension that I live with. I love the Montreal region, which is very multi-ethnic; it is the environment in which I grew up and in which I was trained. My didactic interest in linguistic diversity came with my studies, but on a daily basis, this diversity is more widely present in the news, in the issues related to learning French, in the ways of promoting harmonious living together. Rather than a problem associated with learning French, I prefer to consider it as a lever for learning and for enhancing the value of all students.

The contest

My encounter with kamishibaïs is associated with my graduate studies under the direction of Françoise Armand, who coordinates the Elodil project (Éveil au langage et ouverture à la diversité linguistique : Awakening to language and openness to linguistic diversity) at the Université de Montréal. Several of her (former) students have contributed to this project. In this context, my colleagues and I have participated in the Édilic (Éducation à la diversité linguistique et culturelle Education to the linguistic and cultural diversity) conferences, where I met the Dulala team. The idea of creating an international contest was brought up. I said to myself: why not take this under my wing, under the banner of Elodil?

So my colleague and friend Marie-Paule Lory – a professor at the University of Toronto – decided to handle the Ontario edition of the competition and I, for my part, the Quebec edition. Doing it together was, I think, a motivating factor. From the documents provided by Dulala, we established the parameters of the Canadian competitions by making separate editions for Ontario and Quebec because the Francophone contexts are quite different in these two environments.

The contest is associated with the Elodil project, affiliated with the University of Montreal, which is becoming more and more known in schools. It was a way to promote the contest more efficiently, in full coherence with the type of approach defended.

At the beginning, we distributed the Quebec edition of the Plurilingual Kamishibaï contest  on the Dulala website, on the Elodil Facebook, on the Elodil Ontario website and to some teachers I knew. The first year, an entire school got involved in the project, so we received about ten kamishibaïs from one school. One of my colleagues, a lecturer at the University of Montreal, teaches at this school. She joined the project and also mobilized other teachers. She was like a project leader who drew her colleagues into the adventure. That’s how the first edition of the contest was a success.

We learned how to better manage the contest as the first edition went on. We realized that there were very few operational tools to assist the teachers (such as a summary of the criteria to be respected, like the number of story card). Many documents were scattered, conditioned to a form of self-appropriation, necessarily random depending on the person. Not all of them had understood that the text was not to be placed on the back of the same cards, that it was necessary to respect the theme and not to send the original, for example. We received kamishibaïs in pastel, it’s messy! Some had lost sight of the theme, but all had made a kamishibaï. That was already a victory for us. The second year, we created a checklist to help participants remember key ideas to follow.

I then assembled a jury with people I knew from my research and practice network. That part was really fun. Everyone participated with great enthusiasm and generosity. From the first year, we gave out prizes: children’s literature albums. This year, we sent a butai and a kamishibaï to our two winning classes, to congratulate them and in the hope that it will help them to continue.

This year (2021) there were fewer participants because the teachers from the school that had actively participated in the first editions were conducting a research project on kamishibaïs with us. As part of this research, we created the plurilingual kamishibaï “with a mathematical flavor”. It is a “classic” plurilingual kamishibaï that integrates, in the background, a mathematical problem-solving situation. The experimentation will be repeated next year to better exploit this new tool.

The time devoted to the competition is part of my “service to the community” as a professor at Laval University. It is important for the competition to be under the umbrella of a university, because it gives visibility to plurilingual approaches and legitimizes this type of educational practice. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time available, but I want to do it, that’s why I’m doing it.

Coordinating a contest is a great experience. Today, the Quebec edition of the contest is better run, so it’s a little less work. However, I would have to find ways to hire an additional person to help me, because I don’t have the time to do everything, especially when the jury is evaluating the productions. Working with Dulala, networking, seeing what is happening elsewhere, this international synergy is really interesting. It’s a beautiful project to have. For the participants, the idea of winning an international competition is motivating. It remains to be imagined with what means we can finance it so that it is even more attractive and rewarding for the participants.


I was born in Quebec to French-speaking parents and grandparents. I went to French schools from elementary to university.

I have no linguistic affiliation with English other than through its schooling as a second language. In my daily life, it is not a language I use.

In Quebec, when we talk about teaching French, there is something political, but my commitment is more social. It was really with my master’s degree that I became involved in plurilingual approaches. I understood how it could be used as a lever. My social commitment was affirmed during my studies.

I have a degree in teaching French as a second language, and I immediately continued on to my master’s degree. My dissertation focused on teaching writing from a perspective of engagement with the written word and using plurilingual approaches, including plurilingual theater workshops and the production of plurilingual identity texts.

I found that kamishibaïs were directly related to these different areas of interest. Initiatives of this type are recent in the school environment: I did not experience them when I was a student. It was the studies that were a chance for reflexivity for me, because it’s easy to get carried away by everything that is monolingual, mono-normative. It’s very strong everywhere, I think.

After my dissertation, which focused on plurilingual approaches to teaching grammatical spelling and was done under the joint supervision of the University of Montreal and the University of Grenoble Alpes, I obtained a position at Laval University (in Quebec City). In my teaching and research, I focus on students from immigrant backgrounds, but I also train future teachers of French for English schools. Training and informing on how we learn a language, on the role of first languages in this learning, puts the emphasis on plurilingual approaches on a daily basis.

The Plurilingual Kamishibaï Contest is a way to sow another small seed in this lineage. I teach future teachers who, for 4 years, go through an internship every year. The contest could be a project to implement in their internships. I would also like to plan a class session on kamishibaï. Training students could allow them to take on the project in their future teaching contexts.

This portrait is part of the production of the booklet entitled “Guide for any educational structure wishing to set up a Plurilingual Kamishibaï contest” updated in the framework of the Erasmus+ Kamilala project.

To learn more about this kami-nity, please visit the page of Catherine Maynard’s contest in Québec.

To discover the winning multilingual Kamishibaïs of the competition in Portugal, visit our gallery.