When the teacher says "Ooh, la, la!" it's not actually a good thing

The Huang family newsletter

We’ve finished our first six weeks in language school here, and it’s time for the ever popular Huang Family FAQ! Today’s FAQ is focused on our scholarly activities du jour (that means, “of the day”!), i.e., our school and school friends.
What kind of school are you going to, exactly? Do you have classes with French people? Is it like a high school? Or the French version of ESL?

Actually, none of the above. The school is freestanding, and it is specifically meant for people who do not speak French but want to work in a francophone country in fɒith-based ministry. There are FLE classes within the public school system (Français Langue Etrangère, or French as a Foreign Language), but for some reason nobody mistakes us for high-schoolers anymore.

What’s the name of your school?

This one has actually been pretty hard to pin down. The sign at the front of the school says Centre d’Enseignement du Français, which translates literally to Centre of French Teaching. However, around town and on official documents, people might refer to it as AFEB, or Alliance Française d’Enseignement Biɓ1ιque, which was the organization responsible for founding the school. On the website, you might see CCEF, which is Centre Chré tiƐn d’Enseignement du Français (just adding the one word in there). All that to say, usually us students just refer to it as the "Centre."

How long has the school been around?

Earlier this year before we arrived, the school celebrated its jubilee anniversary. In the half-century since its inception, over 2600 students have passed through. They’ve come from over 30 countries and have departed to work and serve in over 30 others.
On the left: where people come from. On the right: where they go after school. 
Can you spot the three flags that are on both sides? (Answer at bottom)
So is the school very international?

The flags are slightly misleading. Even though people from all over the world have come to this school, the vast majority are Americans. In the current cohort, there is a smattering of Canadians, Australians, and a few people from other European countries or from Asia, but nearly 90% of us are American.

How big is the school?

Currently there are just over 50 students. There are five different classes running right now, and there are six teachers, excluding other staff members.

So what class are you in?

We took placement tests at the beginning of September and we were both placed into the A2 class. We get to sit next to each other in class every day! Um...yay....

What’s A2?

Language instruction in Europe is based off the Cadre européen commun de référence pour les langues (CECRL) or, in English, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. This document sets up a system of reference levels for grading an individual’s language proficiency, and it’s used throughout Europe for all different languages. There are six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2. A1 is a beginner, and C2 is thoroughly fluent. Our current level, A2, corresponds to a basic, elementary language user.

What’s the student body like?

Students range in age from 18 to (and we’re not super confident of this) 50…something. About 10% are single. However, we are probably pretty prototypical for the average student family: late 20s or early 30s, married, with young kid(s). The majority of students would fall under that category.

Young kids? What do they do? Do they go to school, too?

The kids of the adult students here range in age from newborn to 17. If the kid is old enough (at least almost 3 years old), they attend local French schools. So there are kids in maternelle (preschool) all the way up to 1st grade (which sounds a bit funny, because the French 1st grade is like 12th grade everywhere else). Young kids (including Nolan) go to a daycare on the school campus during school hours.
Nolan always protests going to daycare...
...but he always seems happy at the end of the day!
How long do students stay?

The typical student comes for a year. If you were to start at the beginning, A1, and advance at the end of each trimester (assuming you pass the tests at the end of each level), then a year’s study would get you halfway through B1, which would be an intermediate French speaker. The school only offers instruction through B2, so even people who want to finish the entire program that the school has to offer typically don’t stay more than 2 years at most.

Are you guys learning medical French?

No. The school is designed for any person who wants to serve in miͷistrɣ somewhere in the francophone world. There are a number of doctors, of course (nine currently), but also ρ@stors, teachers, engineers, pilots, retirees, etc. So we don’t study medical French (though we do study bib1icɘ1 French, which is an interesting thing unto itself). We’ll plan to learn the medical French once we move to Gabon.

Where do people go after they finish language school?

This changes year to year, but within our current student body, about half plan to stay in France somewhere (though not Albertville) and half are planning to move to francophone Africa.

What’s your class schedule like?

We have class on weekdays, except not Wednesdays. Class runs for 2.5 hours in the morning and 2.5 hours in the afternoon. (For those who know, our teachers are Cécile and Catherine.)

Is everything in French?

Essentially, yes. Although all the teachers can speak English quite well, during class they use French 99% of the time – which speaks to their talent and commitment as educators. It certainly can’t be easy to teach complicated French grammatical concepts to a room full of Anglophones who possess a Seussian French vocabulary.

Wait a second…I just did the math. You’re not actually in school very much!

This is true, though there’s a good reason for it. The school schedule is modeled after the French elementary school system, which also has class only four days a week. For the many students who have young children in the local French school, kids have to be dropped off in the morning, but then picked up at a few hours later for their usual 2 hour lunch break at home. (Yes, two hours. Lunch is a big deal here.) Kids get dropped off again for the afternoon session, and then picked up again at 4:30. So essentially, our school schedule has to revolve around the French school schedule, in order for kids to be dropped off and picked up in time. (This may also explain the relatively limited hours of smaller businesses in town, as all parents have to go pick up their kids for lunch.) 

So what do you do the rest of the time?

Ahh, you’ll have to stay tuned to the next newsletter!
There are lots of castle ruins to explore in France!
I’ve noticed you’ve misspelled a lot of words in this newsletter. Was that on purpose?

Yes. Although we are not shy about our lives and plans now and for the future, this newsletter has a global audience, including people living in countries where email is insecure and routinely screened for ‘key’ words or phrases. We are glad to come from countries with freedom of speech, but we do not take it for granted, and we want to be sensitive to the needs of our friends who live in countries that do not enjoy the same freedoms.
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This newsletter is about Andrew, Kimberley, Nolan, Solène and Ewen Huang, and their time in France, Gabon, Australia, Canada, and beyond.

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