The most popular thing I’ve ever uploaded to YouTube

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This is Ananas.

He’s a pineapple. You probably discerned that.

Ananas is also French for “pineapple”. You probably knew that too.

An amazing number of Canadians have virtually no expertise in French, but they sure as heck know that “ananas” means “pineapple”.

Mostly because of Ananas, the talking pineapple.

I’m going around in circles now. But then again, so would Ananas. He’d repeat the same one or two facts until there was no doubt what the heck he was talking about. Which was helpful for passing the next pop quiz, not for actually learning a language.

Which brings me to the most popular thing I’ve ever uploaded to YouTube.

This is the first episode of Téléfrançais, an educational program produced by TV Ontario in the 1980s. In each 10-minute episode, Jacques, Sophie (replaced later by Michelle), and Ananas have wacky adventures, many originating from what seems to be an abandoned junkyard, where all good childhood adventures begin. Occasionally, the narrator repeated a word that appeared on screen at the same time, so the teacher could have some key words to test you on afterwards.

It was designed to help teach French to young Canadian schoolchildren, a sort of Muppets/Dora the Explorer hybrid. In reality? It was like most educational films shown in grade school—a chance for both teacher and student to take a breather, with the vague, doomed hope that “learning” would happen.

Plenty of educational videos have this distinction though. Téléfrançais, on the other hand, occupies an important place in CanCon education lore, to the point where the “Don’t you put it in your mouth” puppets appear as a related item on the YouTube page.

There are a couple of key reasons for this. One, Ananas and the other characters are, well, undeniably creepy memorable.

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This is one half of the French new wave band that played in every episode, “Les Squelletes”.

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This is “Pilote”, a sovereignist who thought Bill 101 didn’t go far enough in ensuring French stayed the dominant language in Quebec. Or just a pilot.

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It bears mentioning that those images are just from the first two episodes. Téléfrançais was certainly visually arresting, sure, yet plenty of children’s entertainment from the 80s looked weird, and not all of it hits six digits on YouTube.

No, what made Téléfrançais memorable was that you were forced to watch it, again and again and again, until the theme song (Merveilleux! Magnifique!) was hardwired into your brain.

At my elementary school, French was mandatory from Grade 3 to 7, but pretty much an afterthought. There wasn’t a French specialist, there wasn’t a integrated year-to-year approach, and because anyone who really wanted to learn French went to an Immersion school, there wasn’t much enthusiasm from either the teachers or the students.

(A BC teacher’s union report from 2007 seems to bear out that this was not an uncommon situation)

But there was Téléfrançais, and in three different years my teacher decided that playing those 30 episodes was as good a way of getting through the term as any other option.

So we watched, and rewatched, getting slightly better at understanding key words in each episode, but not really improving at communicating in our other official language. Did it matter though? If you wanted to get better at French, high schools had a less pineapple-intensive focus, and if your parents didn’t care, well, there’s plenty of things you learn in Grade 6 that have little bearing on your life 20 years later.

And because this happened in the 90’s, we were blissfully unaware that anyone shared our purgatory.

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Of course, the internet bathes all confusing memories of yesteryear in a warm nostalgia. It turned out many, many people survived French classes in much the same way I did.

Which is why one day years later, I went by my old elementary school, and asked an old teacher if they still had Téléfrançais VHS tapes. I said I wanted to share them with some friends. I’m pretty sure is a textbook example of lying by omission.

I posted 12 episodes, all of them deluged with comments you would expect to see from 20somethings rewatching things from their childhood. What was unexpected was the number of replies I got from teachers. Teachers thanking me for putting them up, teachers wondering if I could post a high-quality version they could show in class, teachers wondering if there were anymore episodes out there.

(Come to think of it, “The Lost Téléfrançais Episode” would actually be pretty cool)

It means that there are probably thousands of students across Canada still learning that, as the theme song goes, “Téléfrançais fantastique!”. If the most popular thing I’ve ever uploaded to YouTube proves anything, it’s that Canada may not be fully bilingual, but we definitely know what pineapples can and can’t do in both official languages.

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