C’est drôle: She won a French language comic contest


Courtesy of Antong Cao

Miramonte sophomore Antong Cao won a French language comic contest with her cartoon.

Mika Strickler and Jason Wagner, Miramonte High School

On a chilly Monday morning, sophomore Antong Cao walks the halls of Miramonte. A friend approaches her with a big smile, congratulating her for her winning entry in a French language comic competition.

At first, Cao is confused about what she was being congratulated for until she remembers a competition she entered two months ago. In disbelief, Cao opens her computer to check her email to see if she really won. Cao gasps: in her inbox is an email from French teacher Nouna Pinto confirming her award. Her hard work and dedication to the French language have paid off, earning her international recognition.

Cao’s victory came from a unique competition, an art-based contest, in which students had to use both their creativity and knowledge of French to write and illustrate a comic. The contest is called Concours de Bande Dessinée – Aventures Dans les Amériques, which translates to “Comic Contest – Adventures in America.” 

The Centre de la Francophonie des Amériques, an organization devoted to spreading awareness about the French language, hosted the competition, which received 206 submissions from French students across the Americas. Submissions were entered in two different categories, youth and adult, and winning submissions won either $500 or $1,000 in Canadian dollars from various French language and Quebecois government organizations.

Miramonte French teacher Nouna Pinto was thrilled to discover the contest opportunity for her students late in 2021. 

“I always try to find ways to motivate students to get involved outside of the classroom,” Pinto said. “I’m always trying to find resources to make them interested in French in creative ways.”

When she found out about the contest, she sent the information to all of her students, hoping that some  would participate. “I know some students are good artists, so I don’t like to only focus on vocab and grammar when I teach. If someone has artistic talent, I want to promote that,” Pinto said.

Cao, who enjoys art, took up interest in the opportunity. “Antong is really amazing at art. I honestly don’t know how she masters color theory so well. Her style really inspires me,” said Sarah Yang, a Miramonte sophomore and fellow artist. 

Cao started to draft her story, occasionally reworking it to comply with the rules of the contest. 

“It was really fun pushing myself to stay within the limitations they gave us. We had to use a couple French phrases in our comic, like avoir une faim de loup,” which means ‘to have hunger like a wolf,’” Cao said. “I also had to make sure I had the correct length, because there was a minimum and maximum amount of panels we could have. It was an interesting opportunity to let my creativity grow within a set of parameters, while also getting a better handle on French in general.”

Cao is no stranger to the French language – she lived in Canada during elementary school  and estimates that she has  studied  French since fourth grade. Even so, she did run into some issues while working on her piece. 

“The most challenging part was probably getting all my French right, because I’m not a native French speaker. Thankfully, Madame Pinto was there to help me by proofreading it for me, which was a big help,” Cao said. The unfamiliar art style also somewhat hindered her. “Working with a comic was also somewhat challenging, because I don’t usually draw comics, I draw illustrations,” Cao said. 

At last, Cao finished her piece—a charming comic about a hungry duck who lives in Toronto. After a few weeks of deliberation, the judging was finished, and Cao emerged as one of eight winners in the youth category. The American Association of Teachers of French (AATF) awarded her French class $500, which Pinto put toward French pastries for the whole class. “Once I realized I’d really won, I was shocked for the rest of the day,” Cao said.  

Pinto fully embraces students being able to practice French outside of a strict academic style and wants to continue incorporating creative projects into her class.

“I would say I have an innovative way of teaching. Since COVID, I don’t like having quizzes and tests, since they’re very stressful. When I ask my students to apply what we learn in class, they do a project, not a test, because I want them to show me that they can apply their knowledge in a real-life setting. I always want to see them being creative, and it also gives me a chance to know them,” Pinto said.

As for Cao, she believes her journey with the French language is far from over.

“I definitely think I’ll continue to use and maybe study French past high school,” Cao said. “I feel like learning a language isn’t just an academic thing. If you learn it, it might as well not just be for the sake of having learned it, but also using it. I’ll probably never stop speaking French.”

Click the link below to see the comic: