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French wing immerses students in language

Nov. 3, 1998

BY JENNI LUKER

Copy Editor

Jennifer_Luker@baylor.edu

Parlez-vous français? If the answer is 'oui,' then perhaps you should visit the far end of the first floor of Memorial Residence Hall where the atmosphere has a certain 'Je ne sais quoi' and the residents know all about having that 'savoir faire.'

The French language wing, developed by the department of modern foreign languages, is in its pilot semester and its residents have pledged to speak only in French for the entire year.

Memorial Residence Hall may lack the charm of France. There are no accordion players sending 'La Vie en Rose' echoing through the hall, no street mimes entertaining the students as they leave for class and the smell of the cafeteria isn't quite the same as the smell of hot crepes. However, as Meaghan Connors, a Kailua, Hawaii junior said, 'it's like being in a little France of our own.'

Aided by a French exchange student, the four students who live in the French wing eat together, socialize together and attend weekly sessions with both the exchange student and French professors. In return for their pledge to speak French, the students receive two hours of advanced French credit each semester.

'It's a chance for the students to have the experience of being immersed in the language while at the same time making friends with a native speaker and forming bonds with the other students,' said Dr. David Uber, French professor and director of the French, Italian and Chinese departments.

The students all say they joined the program to improve their French speaking skills, but not all are pursuing degrees in French.

Amanda Scott, a Lafayette, La., senior, hopes to put her skills to use in France.

'If I do go to France, I wanted to be able to communicate,' she said.

Melissa Halbert, a junior architecture major from Dallas, decided to join the group because she wanted to be able to get to know a person from a different country.

'I don't think it would have been as interesting if it were just some Baylor students speaking French to each other,' she said.

Claudie Malquet, a senior exchange student from Paris, lives with the students in the French wing to help them with their speaking skills, but also to offer a native's perspective.

'She shows us what it is to be a young French person,' Connors said. 'Her experiences are so different from the stereotypes you hear about.'

Understanding Malquet's Parisienne accent and rapid manner of speaking was a challenge at first, the students said.

'I think Claudie's getting used to us,' Halbert said. 'She's starting to speak more slowly and pronounce her words more clearly.'

Besides the scheduled group activities, the students also like to spend time together outside of the dorm.

'We try to do a different social activity every week,' Connors said. 'We also get together on the weekends.'

It's during the weekends that they give themselves a break from French.

'We like to speak English on the weekends so Claudie can practice,' Scott said.

The students say constantly speaking French to each other isn't always easy.

Halbert said its especially hard when she is feeling stressed.

'If it's test time or I'm in a hurry, I really wish I could speak English,' she said. 'It takes so long to figure out how you're going to say things in French.'

Jessica Stanford, an Oklahoma City sophomore, said she has trouble speaking French when she's talking on the telephone.

'If I'm speaking English to someone on the phone and someone in the room starts speaking French in my other ear it's really hard. I have to pick which language to listen to and which one to respond in.'

'If Jessica and I go out just the two of us,' Halbert added, 'we usually speak English.'

Speaking French also comes as a challenge at the group's daily 7:30 a.m. meetings.

'It's funny when we meet in the mornings and the girls have to speak French,' Malquet said. 'They are not very awake and I think it's very strange for them.'

Connors says that despite the daily challenges of the program, she is finding it very helpful. 'It's like having a friend and devoting time to it. We're all here to help each other.'

Stanford says that she and her fellow francophiles go unnoticed by their neighbors in the hall when they are speaking French.

'At first I had quite a few people talk to me and say 'Oh, that's so cool,' but now they just go about their business,' she said.

The program requires that students complete at least three hours of French before they are able to join. However, the department of modern foreign languages is planning to extend the program to entering freshmen, and also hopes to attract male students, Uber said. 'We're developing ideas as we go along.'

Anyone interested in joining the program may contact Uber at 710-6026 or in his office at 304 Old Main.

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