Flirting with French

By Michaella Lesieur, Staff Writer

The Boivin Center for French Language hosted, Flirting With French, taking place Monday October 23, 2017, which was the second program so far for this semester.

UMass Dartmouth students filled the Library’s Grand Reading Room, excited to have such a wonderful opportunity. “There were about 100 enthusiastic Francophones/Francophiles, language scholars, and language students in the audience,” said Director of The Boivin Center of French Language and Culture, Melvin Yoken.

“I asked Mr. William (Bill) Alexander to come to UMass Dartmouth to talk about his award-winning, highly acclaimed book Flirting With French which delineates his prodigious attempt to learn la belle et douce langue francaise at age 57. And that he did with wit, aplomb, savvy and élan. The entire evening was a tremendous and memorable success.”

The author was said to be very entertaining while humoring the audience. “Mr. Alexander began his talk with a French salutation and informed the audience that that was the extent of the French that he would employ during his talk,” said Dr. Yoken’s assistant Maria Sanguinetti. “He informed the audience that his lack of success mastering French despite his intense study should not have come as a surprise to him considering his first two attempts at mastering gardening and baking the perfect loaf of bread.”

Learning French is an important language to learn. “Mr. Alexander stressed the importance of learning French and any other language as a means of interacting meaningfully with others in this rapidly shrinking world,” said Yoken proudly.

“At this advantage stage in global development, he noted that we humans must continue to form a positive relationship with others, and language is the key for doing just that.”

Mr. Alexander was not the only one honored at the event. “Dr. Yoken introduced the newest lifetime honorary board member of the Boivin Center, Gerald Messier and the other members of the board which he described as une belle équipe,” said Sanguinetti excitedly. “…Dr. Yoken [also] recognized Sunny Winthrop, the recent recipient of a Boivin Center scholarship…”

However, you cannot just learn a language it takes patience, time, determination and commitment. The benefits of learning a new language helps one bring their education skills to a whole new level.

“Studying language also improves memory, develops a longer attention span, and ameliorates one’s critical thinking skills,” said Yoken passionately.

Not only does language help one to communication with others, but, will help you get into the performing arts. “Bill Alexander and I emphasized that learning French opens one’s doors to the arts, (ex. art, music, dance, fashion, literature, cuisine and cinema) as French is the language par excellence of culture,” said Yoken.

Alexander was not always interested in learning a new language. “William Alexander’s love of French was not something cultivated in his early years when he had avoided a language requirement for graduation, caused mostly because of an unpleasant experience with his high school French teacher, by choosing biomedical engineering as his major,” said Sanguinetti. “He eventually received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature. With no prospect for a job, he backpacked through Europe for three months after graduating.”

According to Yoken the French language has brought life to hit films, performances, and shows such as Les Misérables, Fantome De L’Opera and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

There is one experience Alexander will never forget. “He told of his experience with a young Canadian girl he had met in Copenhagen when the two of them decided to splurge on an elegant French meal. Without the aid of his trusty French-English dictionary, he attempted to order what he thought was a veal dish, remembering that ‘veau’ meant veal, instead, what they were served was veal kidneys and nothing else realizing that à la carte was the way food was ordered in France,” Sanguinetti said.

France is also known for multiple award-winning titles. “…He stressed the fact that France has won more Nobel Prizes in Literature than any other country,” said Yoken.

“To wit: the first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1901, Sully Prudhomme, was French. “[Furthermore, he] reminded his audience that French is the first or second language in countries representing every continent except Australia and Antarctica.”

According to Sanguinetti, Alexander later married and did return to France, and remembered someone trying to ask him the time of day and lucky enough it was noon and he could respond.

It took 13 months for Alexander to dive deep into the language and learn the words of French. “…Mr. Alexander studied French for two to three hours a day in self-study, group study and for three weeks in a full immersion school in France…” said Sanguinetti.

The talk was followed with a question and answer-based discussion. It truly was a successful day for the French department.


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