Quick slips of the tongue


At the start of Monday’s class, the 18 undergraduate, graduate, and visiting students in French 10100 seem nervous—they have two quizzes to take before the lesson commences, and it’s already the last week of the course. The instructor, Céline Bordeaux, also a French department program assistant coordinator, hands each student two sheets of paper, which ask questions like “Comment on dit en français?” (translate phrases like “She’s as tactful as them” into French) and “Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire en anglais?” (offer English counterparts to French adjectives).

The course meets at 6 p.m. for two or three hours, four times a week. Next week French 10200 begins for most of the students, who are condensing an entire year of language lessons into the nine-week summer quarter. Their final exam is this Friday.

Bordeaux collects the quizzes, then turns to the day’s lesson. She cues a video showing a young French woman named Adèle on the large classroom television. Adèle begins, “J’aime bien beaucoup de choses…” and goes on to describe the music she enjoys, like jazz and French songs. The vocabulary lesson includes types of music—“le blues, le disco, la musique pop”—and before the two-hour lesson is over, students have also learned the vocabulary for television-show genres and objects one might find in a bedroom. Other topics include the difference between definite and indefinite articles, how to agree and disagree in casual conversation, and the conjugation pattern for verbs that end in “–er.” The last is important because the same pattern applies to verbs from “parler” (speak) to “trouver” (find): “Over 8,000 French verbs have this infinitive and will conjugate the same,” Bordeaux says.

Chicago’s summer language classes, offered in 17 different tongues, may be fast-paced, but they are also a draw. Ari Bookman, for instance, a graduate student in English at Northwestern, commutes from Evanston four times a week with several friends who are also taking Chicago language courses.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photos: Some of Monday's French exercises in the notebook of Ari Bookman, a visitor from Northwestern.

July 9, 2008