In November of last year, my assistant Kate had the chance to sit down with Rick, one of my cherished students. She conducted an interview with him to get his insights on the French language, taking lessons with me, and what they have done for him personally and professionally.
When did you first become interested in French?
I first became interested in the French language when I was a student at the University of Minnesota in 1960. I was part of a Humanities program while I was there, and it struck me how French is such a language of learning and culture. So many giants of diplomacy, education, and culture were French or spoke French, so I was inspired to learn more about Francophone culture.
Did you have any personal connection to the culture/language before taking lessons? (For example, a relative who lives in a francophone country, a fond memory traveling, etc.)
Honestly, no I did not.
Do you use French for your job? Everyday life?
I do, in fact. I work in a hardware store in DuPont Circle. There are a handful of French-speaking customers that I regularly converse with. One regular customer is from Lyon, France, and there is a couple that regularly comes to the store from Lucerne, Switzerland. While they are fluent in English, it is easier for us to communicate in French. I love that I get to use French in a professional environment.
What is it you like most about the French language? Do you find it to be a challenge? If so, how did you overcome it?
What I love most about the French language are the colorful expressions. I also love how words can have several different meanings. Although it adds to the difficulty, it makes learning a great deal more stimulating. Another thing I like about French is that often, there are not any direct translations from English to French. You really have to think about it; it’s a fantastic learning exercise.
You better believe it was a challenge! You have to keep in mind that in French, you can say something that is technically correct, but not the way it’s said in everyday life. For example, when I was at Oxford, I had a professor ask me what happened that day. He asked me, “Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé aujourd’hui?” (What is it that happened today?). This is correctly formulated, but too formal for everyday life. Typically, a native French speaker will just ask, “Ça va?” (It goes?) Much simpler!
How did you discover French in D.C.? (Recommendation, advertisement, social media, etc.?)
I did a quick Google search, and Melissa’s website (www.frenchindc.com) was one of the first results.
What teaching method helped you the most to retain your French language skills?
Definitely conversation. It makes one reflect. You have to form sentences, questions, and get up close and personal with the person you’re speaking with. When I take lessons with Melissa, half of our work is writing and translating, and the other half is conversation practice.
Tell me about your favorite memory/anecdote that came from speaking French.
The thrill of being able to ask the postman ask how to send a letter in French while in Paris! I also remember being in Perpignan, and asking someone for directions without a word of English. These were some big milestones for me, and I still think about these stories to this day. I also remember being in Saguenay (Quebec) and meeting several university students. They tried speaking with me in English, but I simply responded, “Je parle français” (I speak French). What a look of relief they had on their faces. I was so glad that I could connect with the students on a much more personal level, in their native language. In fact, the province of Quebec is so close to my heart, Melissa nicknamed me “Quebec Rick.”
How has Melissa and her French courses helped you in your personal development?
Learning French has done wonders for my memory. I don’t have to think about where I left my belongings, or write down reminders like I used to.
Lessons with Melissa are so enjoyable. She teaches students of all ages, and she has a gift for tailoring course material to different levels.
What advice would you give to someone interested in learning French?
Talk to Melissa! She has a real gift for teaching. When people ask me about her, I always say the same thing: I signed up for 5 lessons, and I ended up staying her student for 5 years.