Reflections: First Week at French Language School

Bonjour! I am writing this in Montpellier, France, pronounced "Mohn-pay-yay", and definitely not how we say the capital of Vermont, which only has only "L", by the way. I want to begin by thanking those of you who support Agape Africa Fund and my ministry, both financially and through your prayers. I am very grateful for our partnership and for this amazing opportunity to learn French. I could not be here without you!


Here... That has actually been a fairly complex word this past week. I left Pittsburgh nine days ago for Montepellier and just over two months of fully immersed French language school. This is a natural next step of my work in French-speaking Gabon where Bongolo Hospital is located. While these few weeks will "only" give me a foundation in French (a missionary's full-time language school experience typically lasts from 9 months to two years), my intention is to come home capable of more accelerated learning in addition to being able to hang out with local French-speakers. You would be surprised how many there are in Pittsburgh! It's kind of like when you buy a new car and it is suddenly everywhere. French speakers have come out of the woodwork and I'm excited to build those relationships.

Here... Montpellier is in the far southern part of France about 45 minutes from the Mediterranean Sea. Its more famous neighbors to the east, Nice, Marceilles, Cannes, etc., get all of the attention and are more expensive to live in, as well. Montpellier is famous in its own right, but just less so than those other Mediterranean tourist destinations. Fortunately, summer holidays are over and the bulk of the tourists are back home at work. This is a city of nearly 500,000 people in the greater area, about 100,000 of whom are college students.


Here... It could also mean in "chez Forquin", the Forquin's home ("Shay For-can"), owned by my host family. I chose this lifestyle instead of getting an apartment because it would provide for a more fully immersed time here (no English at home), AND I am provided with two meals per day - breakfast and dinner. Dinner has been out of this world every night so far. Their home is a cozy one-story 3-bedroom/1-bathroom stucco'd concrete house, maybe 1,500 square feet in total.  While everything is small in comparison, it is thoughtfully laid out and ingeniously utilized. It has a curved terracotta half-pipe roof similar to the others in its neighborhood. All of the homes are walled and have a one-car sliding metal gate. I'm not certain why the enhanced security because the entire Montpellier area feels very safe to me, so far. This can either be the car's entrance to the front garden and garage, or it can be parked outside on the street parallel to the gate, which is what Michel (the father) does. "Michel" ("Michelle" in English) is a man's name here and you wouldn't want to tease Michel about the American difference, as he is a semi-retired life-long French army NCO (I think - its 'hard to make out details at this point) who has been based and fought all over. His protective, very traditional Corsican wife of 37 years, Catherine ("Cat-er-een"), would also not think this amusing. They have three grown children and several grandchildren. I am staying in the oldest son's room (he is in the army, as well, making him the fourth generation service-man). Yes, my host parents older than me! 

Here... Or, I could be in  my comfortable bedroom. While it's wonderful to come home to a family environment, it is also great to have a private space to retreat to, in order to study and relax. While quite small (9' x 12'), it boasts a comfy full sized bed, a corner computer desk, really good closet storage space, an antique chair, and a small bed-sized table. Perhaps best of all, there is a stubby little dorm-style refrigerator (2' x 2') that holds my lunch supplies and drinks. I am responsible for all of my lunches, but Catherine takes care of the rest. An added bonus is that she did my laundry yesterday (Saturday)! All I needed to do was to take it off the line and fold it. (Mom: your son is well taken care of!). I brought her flowers.


Here...That could also be ILA (Institut Linguistique Adenet), my language school (, and select English option). I spend 3.5 hours, five days a week in classes learning French grammar and how to interact in real life situations. For example, we spent an hour on going to the drug store and asking the pharmacist for medicines and advice for all sorts of common ailments. This was timely because half my class of 5, including the teacher, are sick. I hope and pray to be spared a real life drug store visit! So far, so good.

Less than 20 hours of classroom training doesn't sound like a lot on the surface, but this 54 year old has not done serious homework in decades, let alone studied grammar in any language for 35 years! Parts of several afternoons are additional activities or excursions. In addition, I spend as much time as I can reviewing the morning's lessons, building vocabulary lists in order to read the materials in the first place, and grappling with grammar exercises. I managed to get the teacher to periodically explain things in English (yes, all classes are in French including all of the texts and exercises...) and this has made all the difference. The rest of my day is spent walking the two miles to and from school - a mildly hilly (by Pittsburgh standards) 35-45 minutes depending on whether I take the heavily trafficked route or the more scenic one. The temperatures have been in he low 50's early in the morning and mid-70's in the afternoon. The sky is usually (300+ days a year) a crystal clear blue and I have experienced about an hour of rain so far. This is plenty of exercise as I have my full backpack with me and I use it like a one-armed kettle bell to amuse myself. I also listen to either French, music or an ACAC sermon I've downloaded. Then, I eat dinner at 7:00 sharp (remember, this is a military family) while talking with Michel and Catherine (in French). Finally, I do more homework /studying, and having a much-anticipated Skype call or two before turning out the light by 10:00 pm in order to get up before 6:00 am and do it all again. (I stayed up later Friday and Saturday). Believe me when I say so far I'm getting my money's worth!

That was Monday through Friday. I spent all day Saturday studying, with a break for a walk to the supermarket for lunch and other supplies. Today was more study, church and writing this posting. Stay tuned for more about these experiences and other stories next time.