An Ephemeral French Enclave
Every two weeks, café welcomes Francophiles
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For many adults, young and old, however, learning a foreign language can be an uphill battle. Over the years, studies have shown that a younger brain, especially during early childhood, is more geared to absorb a new language, as it has fewer skills to memorize. Despite that, Bradford says that learning a culture’s language is key to understanding it — and can be helpful with strengthening cognitive ability as one ages.
“The best way to understand a culture is through its language. Learning one is a discipline in itself, like learning how to play music,” Bradford says. “As people get older, they always try to stay sharp. With learning a language, there’s been research showing it’s very helpful in keeping your mind active — you have to use it.”
In addition to the cognitive benefits, Bradford says, learning a second language can provide a respite from the stresses of modern life. With many struggling to balance their personal and work lives, the AFT provides an outlet for people to pursue their goal of speaking another language in a welcoming environment.
“A lot of people have dreams of speaking another language, and they’re important for people. With an organization like the Alliance Française, there’s an opportunity to create a new community and be among friends,” Bradford says.
Alliance Française members Julie Fulford, Clayton Reck and Mary Bradford converse in French during a conversation hour. Their reasons for attending may vary, but each unite to learn the language, engage in cultural awareness and share their love of France.
In that sense, the AFT binds people together in the best of times and the worst of times. After the terror attacks that shook France to its core in November 2015, the group organized a candlelight vigil at Lake Ella for the 130 victims killed in Paris. Over 100 people turned out and lighted candles in remembrance of the victims as they hugged, cried and sang “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem.
People may come and go as the years go by, but the AFT reliably attracts new members — the lifeblood of the group. Adam Ravain, a 26-year-old graduate student studying music at Florida State University, joined the group in April, seeing it as a stepping stone to becoming able to “think in French” someday and connect to his family’s French heritage.
Though he’s passionate about the culture, Ravain’s exposure to French has been limited. In his spare time, he listens to the Radio France Internationale program “Française Facile,” an educational podcast aimed at teaching novice speakers on the go.
Still, Ravain struggles to speak French, especially when he’s put to the test at the conversation hour. But he takes pleasure in hearing the language spoken and practicing it with fellow French enthusiasts.
“It’s tough. I often have ideas of what I want to say and I’m not sure how they translate into French,” Ravain says. “Still, I like the experience since I get to hear other people and see where they are. I’ll get more out of it when I understand the language as it comes into my ear.”
For other AFT members like Nadia Wildrick, who teaches AFT-sponsored French classes for children, speaking the language is second nature — as she grew up in the small countryside town of Vernon in the Normandy region of France.
She moved to Tallahassee in 2000, and the city provided her with her first taste of the United States. Though she initially “felt lost,” she grew accustomed to the slower pace of life in Tallahassee over the years.
In 2009, Wildrick became a teacher for the AFT, where she now teaches several times a week. For a Frenchwoman like her, Wildrick says the AFT provides an avenue to share her culture with Americans and for French people to share their immigrant experiences in the United States.