It’s the creation of four francophones from Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, who want to cut across national lines and connect immigrants based on language.

by Jeff Gammage

A new center for French-speaking newcomers in Philadelphia? Mais oui!

It’s the budding creation of four local francophones, come here from Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, who want to cut across national and cultural lines to connect immigrants based on a single shared language. With that, they say, people who speak le français can help each other find jobs, grow businesses and navigate government regulations that for many can spell the difference between success and failure.

“It will make their inclusion more easy in the city of Philadelphia,” said cofounder Amel Kherbachene, 32. “It’s really hard to find sources to help you integrate.”

She came here six years ago from her native Algeria, with its national languages of Algerian Arabic and Berber. Some English is spoken, too. But French, a legacy of the nation’s colonial history, is widely used in everyday life and in the news media, schools, and government.

In Philadelphia, Kherbachene said, the common absence of French blocked her from basic job-search information, and from having more nuanced conversations and contacts with friends and colleagues.

“The saying, ‘You talk to someone in their native language, it goes to their heart. If you talk to someone in their second language, it goes to their mind,’” she said. “It made me feel how easy it could be if the francophones could have a space to share advice.”

The Centre Francophone de Philadelphie is brand new, still a bébé. For now it exists largely as a French-and-English website and a phone number. The creators want to eventually develop a physical space, either standing on its own or housed within one of the larger immigrant-support agencies. Continue reading

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