The problem with French has nothing to do with France...

The Huang family newsletter

Before coming to Albertville, we researched various French language programs around the world (not realizing at the time that our agency would choose a program for us). If one is looking for a French language immersion program geared toward preparing those for future fɒιth-based NGO or mιͷistrɣ work, there aren’t actually a ton of options. There are a couple programs in France, one in Switzerland, one in Quebec, maybe a couple in Africa. We received advice from friends, teammates, and acquaintances who had traveled this road before us, including a number who gushed about their experiences at French programs other than Albertville’s. They reminisced about their amazing community interactions, numerous conversational opportunities, and easy friendships with locals.
In fact, before arrival, the general feeling we got about the program in Albertville was that it was (comparatively speaking) fairly rigid and academic, with a heavy emphasis on grammar, routine testing, and scheduled evaluations. There was going to be a lot of sitting in classrooms, taking and studying notes, and prepping for quizzes. We were warned more than once that the style of teaching did not include a lot of encouragement or positive feedback. Additionally, the locals of the region were known (even amongst the French) to be somewhat cool and reserved.
We were pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find that Albertville wasn’t as bad as some had made it out to be. Yes, there was (and is) a lot of grammar, but the teachers are generous and caring, not the strict taskmasters we had halfway expected. Our neighbours were friendly and strangers were kind, especially to Nolan.
But we’re now rapidly approaching the halfway point of our time in France, and our French, it seems, is not progressing nearly as rapidly as we had thought, expected, or hoped. Why is this? Why is our language acquisition so slow?
Upon further reflection, we’ve come to the realization that learning French would probably be refreshing, invigorating, even downright fun were we single or, perhaps, married without children. But the kid…the kid makes all the difference. With a 2-year-old boy, every extra ounce of energy, every single opportunity, every spare minute outside the classroom is spent preventing his next meltdown – usually in vain, because Nolan has tantrums on the order, frequency, and reliability of Old Faithful.
Crying when waking up. Tantrum when taking off pajamas. Tantrum when changing diaper. Tantrum when putting on clothes. Tantrum when putting on shoes. Dragging him down the stairs. Forcing him to sit in his stroller.
Actually, once he’s in his stroller, he usually does okay. There’s some crying when we drop him off à la nurserie, but then – we’re free! To actually study! French! In a classroom! For hours! Uninterrupted! Can you imagine? What an opportunity! What a freedom!

In fact, we’ve come to dread the weekends and count down the hours until Monday, when we can study French in the peace and quiet of an actual, adult-filled classroom, rather than trying to decipher why Nolan is beating the floor with his fists and feet for the umpteenth time of the day. (For the record, Nolan is apparently very well behaved at daycare. Why he doesn’t seem to share that aspect of his personality with us at home is a mystery.)
We often half-joke (and half-daydream) about how language study would be a completely different experience without Nolan. We could spend more time studying, more time reading, more time listening, more time conversing…it would be so much fun! And so productive!
Of course, he also is quite cute. (Also, that's not a weird part of his hair. That's the result of a very bad haircut given by his father.)
Nevertheless, Nolan is part of the equation, part of our equation in this journey of language acquisition. And as frustrating as it is for us to raise him, it is undoubtedly also frustrating for him to be unable to express his wishes and desires to us intelligibly.

And, boy, we can identify with that.
Joyeux Noël!
Despite the kid and all he entails, we have successfully passed our first trimester exams! It's a Christmas miracle!
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This newsletter is about Andrew, Kimberley, Nolan and Solène Huang: their journey from the US to Canada to France and, ultimately, to Bongolo Hospital in Gabon, West Africa, with the Post-Residency Program of Samaritan's Purse (World Medical Mission).

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