An interview with Abdellah Boudour
We caught up with the French community mobilizer and literarcy activist to discuss French identity, why reading matters and immigration.
Read the short profile below.
“I remember the year I learned to read and write, I had a lot of guidance from my family. My childhood friends had immigrant parents, and the education they received at home was not necessarily the same as mine. In my childhood, I remember my father reading the paper every day and reciting it to my sister and me. My mother used to accompany us to the library and let us pick out books – my favorites were comic books like ‘Croc-Blanc,’ ‘Lucky Luke’ and ‘Tom-Tom et Nana.’ School in France is free and accessible for all, but unfortunately, when a child returns home there isn’t always a person there to help them understand their homework. When kids have parents who don’t speak or write in French, they’re left to their own devices. And in France, if you don’t speak French, you’ll face a lot of problems. Support must be given to parents. Today, as a French citizen, it is not possible to point the finger and demand work only from the state, everyone must make an effort in their own way. It doesn't matter if they’re young or old, with disabilities or without, or an immigrant or natural citizen. ‘La Dictée pour Tous’ or ‘Dictation for All’ brings people together in a competition that values the French language and its heritage.”
Abdellah grew up in the Argenteuil neighborhood in the outskirts of Paris, where he lived in low-income housing with his family. His father was a driver, and his mother worked in administration. They were both born in France to Algerian parents, making Abdellah, his sister and his little brother second-generation French-Algerian kids raised in French culture. When Abdellah was 16, he started to organize football competitions for young people who couldn’t go on holiday, and at each event, he became aware of the different problems affecting his neighborhood. He began distributing things like food, and baby diapers to single mothers. Then he and his friends developed a concept for a new project: to make giant recitations all over France. In 2013, they organized their first recitation in Argenteuil. The competition consists of one person who reads a text out loud, while the competitors write the words down as they are spoken. In the beginning, they only had 40 chairs, and at one point there were 250 people sitting on the ground. That’s when they knew they had to do something. They came up with the idea to have the four finalists from each recitation compete in an annual national championship at a historic site. Since then, it’s become an international recitation called Dictation for All with over 83,000 participants – not bad for a simple activity they learned in primary school.
“Recitation is an exercise that we do in school. It’s the state that inspired us to take the concept and replicate it in neighborhoods. Along with private funding, the project is financed by institutions of the state such as the National Agency for Territorial Cohesion, the Region Île de France and several municipalities of cities we travel to. I’m responsible for selecting the excerpts that are read, and I adapt these to the context. For example, if we go to Marseille I choose an excerpt from a Marseille author, such as Marcel Pagnol. We’ve held finals at sites like the Eiffel Tower and the National Assembly. Even Brigitte Macron, the wife of President Emmanuel Macron, was a reader at our final at the Élysée Palace – the president handed out the prize to the winner. He then thanked me for defending France’s linguistic heritage. It was one of the great unforgettable moments in the history of Dictation for All.
“It’s always necessary to experiment with new solutions, and put in place new devices to strengthen communication and diversity. We’re currently in a society where there is hatred in different sectors: towards institutions, people of other origins, genders and religions. It’s important to focus on what we have in common. Recitation manages to create communication between all of the citizens and the different neighborhoods. We’re here to bring people together with the same goal – to show that a simple French recitation can be a source of inspiration and identification. From 2013 to now, we have held more than 350 recitations in 288 cities and five different countries. We use mostly Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to announce recitations and, since the lockdown, we have been hosting live recitations through Facebook. In the future, we want to expand the concept of Dictation for All to the DROM (Overseas Departments and Regions), the West Indies, Guyana, Polynesia, Martinique and Guadeloupe.”