Weather Updates

Chicago Wolves’ Guillaume Desbiens speaks French with Waubonsie students

Chicago Wolves' Guillaume Desbiens No.21 recently spoke with students learning speak French Waubonsie Valley High School Aurora. Here he tries

Chicago Wolves' Guillaume Desbiens, No.21, recently spoke with students learning to speak French at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora. Here he tries to control a lose puck agains the Rockford Ice Hogs during an Oct. 13 game. | Sun-Times file photo

storyidforme: 43967348
tmspicid: 14141720
fileheaderid: 6483980
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: March 5, 2013 6:16AM

Chicago Wolves right winger Guillaume Desbiens demonstrated his off-ice talents in January when he paid a visit to Waubonsie Valley High School. The 27-year-old native of Quebec met with more than 200 students enrolled in French classes to help them sharpen their foreign language skills.

“This is an incredible opportunity for students to use the French that they have been studying at Waubonsie,” said French teacher Savannah Smith, who was born and raised in Quebec. “In contrast to students who study Spanish, and have ample opportunity to hear, and even speak Spanish in real-life situations close to home, French students rarely have the opportunity to interact with French native speakers.”

Waubonsie student Kylie Russell, 15, agreed.

“I enjoyed getting to hear a native speaker outside of the classroom setting,” Russell said. “Getting the opportunity to ask questions in French helps with gaining confidence in speaking (French).”

Desbiens is one of several French-speaking hockey players who take part in the Chicago Wolves Player Visit Program. Since 1999, team members have volunteered their time and language skills at area high school classes throughout the season.

“It’s great meeting with the students because they’re fun, they’re young and they have so much energy,” Desbiens said. “It’s nice to feel like I’m back to the days of my youth a little bit, and it’s a chance to use my French. I don’t get a lot of chances to use it.”

Courtney Mahoney, Chicago Wolves senior vice president of operations, said it’s a popular program with area students and teachers, and they try to accommodate as many schools as they can. This season there are 17 visits planned throughout the Chicago area.

“We, as an organization, always feel it’s important to give back to the community in any way possible,” Mahoney said. “Nowadays, when the value of learning a second language is so important for students, it’s a really tremendous value for them to see our players use it in real-life situations and learn how important it is to them in their careers. I also think it’s a great opportunity for them to work on their French in maybe a little more fun setting than the normal classroom.”

This season, the Wolves roster includes three French-Canadians, three players from Sweden and one from the Czech Republic.

“We want them (students) to understand there is a value to this; learning a second language is something that’s important and something that’s used every day, whether it’s Spanish, German, Swedish or French,” she said. “It’s something these guys have to use. It blows me away how good their English is and how talented they are with languages.”

In December, Desbiens paid a visit to Naperville North High School where he met with students in advanced placement French classes.

Naperville North teacher Suzanna Schweer said it’s important for students to make real-life connections with the language by interacting with native speakers.

“Students learned a lot about the culture of Quebec from Guillaume,” Schweer said. “He did a wonderful job answering all of their questions and keeping them engaged. ”

She said for students to hear a native speaker who has an accent different from those in France was helpful, too.

“Quebecois sounds very different from standard French and uses a different sort of lexicon, providing students with ‘a more global perspective,’” Schweer said.

“(The visit) was also a nice reminder that French is commonly spoken on our very own continent. These experiences are important to make learning meaningful.”

The hockey player will be back in town Feb. 21 when he visits Neuqua Valley High School.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.