Outside of a French study group in Lockwood or a classroom in Clemens, the chances of hearing a casual French conversation around campus are fairly low.
UB French Club’s new conversation table is aiming to change that.
The idea behind the program is simple: students, no matter their skill level, can learn French through casual conversations with native speakers and more experienced students in a laid-back setting with none of the grades or pressure of a French lecture.
The club will eventually provide students with bilingual learning sheets and preparation material, but there is no strict curriculum like one would find in a traditional French course. Conversation topics are predetermined, but students are encouraged to explore whatever topics interest them. The idea is to learn from fellow students on the fly, not from a textbook.
“It very much addresses the anxiety someone might have when speaking a foreign language, without being put on the spot,” Adam Dounane, the club’s president and a senior communication major, said.
There is no proficiency requirement to participate, and though many club members have a varied degree of experience, Dounane believes there is always more to learn.
“It kind of lowers that barrier to entry,” he said. “[It] helps people learn things like ordering at a French restaurant or working up the nerve to say ‘what’s up.’”
Dounane wants others to learn about the French language that exists beyond formal grammar books and homework assignments. His own experiences in France gave him a look at the more diverse influences on the language that many students might miss.
“I tried to learn more casual French, there were even things like Arabic expressions being thrown in that I wasn’t prepared for,” he said.
The conversation table doesn’t shy away from tough conversations. Past meetings have featured discussions about a post-colonial Francophone world and the controversial French concept of laïcité, which discourages overt displays of religious devotion and has drawn criticism for targeting minority religious groups in France — inadvertently or otherwise. Everyone gets a chance to share their opinion in a judgment-free environment.
Students also have the chance to explore their own heritage and connections to the Francophone world. Dounane, for example, is Moroccan and uses French to communicate with his family.
“We’ve been blessed to have as many international students as we’ve had [this semester],” Dounane said. “That was a pleasant surprise.”
The conversation table has always been a long-term plan for the French Club. After establishing the group in January 2020, the club hoped to mirror the success of the popular Spanish conversation table that is hosted by the Romance Languages and Literatures Department.
Following an end to most of the university’s COVID-19 safety rules and a surge in the club’s popularity, the table is poised to become a permanent fixture of UB’s French community.
No permanent schedule has been finalized, but the club intends to host weekly conversations in the coming months. Students can register for further programming updates via the club’s mailing list found on the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures’ webpage.
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