Parlez-vous francais? I, a constant student of French destined to remain forever at an intermediate level, did not know what to expect when I walked into the French Conversation Club at the Howe Library. Neither did teacher Gloria Finkelstein.
Finkelstein filled a conference table with all sorts of props: flash cards, an umbrella, books about France, about art, and about French art, some magazines, a small American flag. Despite the regular schedule of the club meetings, Gloria is not always sure who is coming or what the topics for discussion will be. There are no textbooks or homework. The props help, if needed, to ease participants into speaking. She relishes the fluid nature of her work, shaped mostly by participants’ interests.
The French Conversation Club has been hosted by the Howe for the last year and a half. It is free, and open to all levels; at last Tuesday’s session, participants ranged from a student who had been studying for a year to a native French speaker. A former Peace Corps volunteer and a handful of people like me who have been students of French now or long in the past, who have traveled or lived in French-speaking countries, rounded out the group of seven.
At first we made sentences out of the flash cards, but soon someone mentioned the problems at the Hanover Coop, which caused a spirited, if halting, discussion. The next controversy was a broader one as people tried to tell the story of what had recently happened in Charleston, SC and the resulting attempt to remove the Confederate flag (le drapeau) from the state capitol. There was mention, and photos, of the replica of Lafayette’s ship scheduled to arrive soon in Boston.
It is a quick hour. Gloria prods, guides, and keeps an iPad at the ready to use Google Translate or to view something related to the discussion. The vibe is casual, supportive. Even the initially reluctant eventually chime in.
Finkelstein (sometimes referred to as Madame G) has been teaching French for a number of years in various venues in the Upper Valley. She comes from Montreal, Quebec and loves giving travel information about her home city. She spent a year living with her family in France. She has volunteered at the Ray School and has held programs at the Black Center, AVA Gallery, Marion Cross School and the Norwich Library. She has worked with homeschoolers, families, and individuals. She is particularly keen on teaching and learning French while doing, and has combined language lessons with activities such as cooking, hiking, and trips to the market. Some of the Howe library meetings of the club may have specific agendas, including how to order a meal in a French restaurant or preparation for travel in France.
The Club meets at the Howe on the first, third and fifth Tuesdays of each month from 12 noon to 1:00 P.M. and on the second and fourth Tuesdays from 5:30 to 6:30 P.M. Gloria Finkelstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via messenger service through her Facebook page, French Club with Madame G.