Do you like French pirates but don’t know how to bring them into your lesson plans? You’re in luck! September 19 is one of the most fun silly holidays of the year – Talk Like a Pirate Day! The holiday itself is pretty self-explanatory, you don’t really have to do all that much to celebrate other than throw in a few ARRRs and other pirate phrases. If you really want to go all-in, you could wear an eyepatch or a puffy pirate shirt. Do you have a stuffed parrot toy? You could use that too. But there are also some pirate-related activities that you can do in French class to make the day even more fun.
French pirates in Saint-Malo
The city of Saint-Malo is famously the home to many French pirates – although whether or not they were pirates depends on your point of view. They were technically corsairs, or as I like to call them “pirates with permission slips.” While nobody wanted pirates going after their ships, they didn’t really mind if they went after the ships of their enemies. So the king of France wrote a letter giving these pirates permission to go after ships, as long as they weren’t French ships.
Of course, the letter didn’t really mean anything if you happened to be an English ship who captured pirates – you would punish them as you would any pirate. But this helped the French by protecting their own ships while giving the corsairs a target for their piracy. Saint-Malo is called “ville corsair” as it was the home base to many of the corsairs due to its location near the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean.
Saint-Malo isn’t only known for its pirates – it also has a history as the home of Jacques Cartier who famously sailed the Saint Lawrence River in Canada. During World War 2, it was used as a German submarine base. The city was almost entirely destroyed during the war and was rebuilt in only 12 years. If you’d like to share more about the city of Saint-Malo with your students, you may want to check out this reading activity for intermediate and advanced French classes.
Women French pirates? Mais oui!
If you’ve never heard of Jeanne de Clisson, don’t feel bad – most people haven’t! But as far as French pirates go, she’s pretty cool. When her husband was executed by the treacherous French king, she vowed revenge. She and her sons took up piracy and began to sail the seas. Her ship was called My Revenge and was painted black with red sails. They would attack ships then kill all but one of the sailors on board, allowing him to spread the word among other sailors. Since her beef was with the French king, she attacked French ships.
She kept up her piracy for over a decade and then decided to retire. She remarried and lived out the rest of her life at the castle of Hennebont. You can read more in a reading activity for intermediate and advanced French learners. It’s available in print, Google drive and Boom cards versions.
Talking like French pirates?
Since it’s talk like a pirate day, can you talk like a French pirate? We really don’t know what French pirates sounded like. Even English-speaking pirates didn’t really sound like what we consider to be a “pirate” accent. But you can use this opportunity to point out that some pirate vocabulary very much did come from French – a parlay comes from “parler” and a sea shanty comes from “chanter.” It’s a great chance to point out how language spreads and changes as people from different cultures interact.