I’ve been playing around with how I envision my summer in Chicago to look. I’ve put a lot of thought into it, and it mostly involves Lake Michigan, rooftop cocktails, and preparing for my upcoming trip to Paris this fall. The first two things I can accomplish with my eyes closed (although I wouldn’t recommend it). But the last task—preparing for Paris, requires a little help from my friends from The Alliance Française de Chicago. And so begins what I’ve coined my “French Girl Summer”.
Bonjour, I’m Jess.
If you’re new here, I’m a Francophile, which means I have a love for things French. In short, the show Emily in Paris was made for hopeless romantic gals like myself—and I have no shame!
There’s a romance about France that I could ramble about forever, and it definitely started with Disney’s iconic interpretation of Beauty and the Beast.
So much so, that I actually studied French in college. My professor would heartily be disappointed in how much I’ve forgotten since the days of Monsieur Baudelaire and his epic poems, but I think he would be proud of my commitment to learning post-grad. Je suis desloée, professeur Lindeman!
Someone once told me that French was “the international language of business”. I don’t know where I heard that, or even if that person was remotely credible. But it fueled my fervor and as soon as I got to college I fell in love with each and every vowel-laden word.
And, as I left the honeymoon stage of language learning and entered the world of verb-conjugation, the reality started to sink in—French words are EVERYWHERE! And where languages spread, the culture follows.
So, you’re going to become… a stereotype?
Not exactly. Look, there are some things the French do very well. The passion for good food, long unhurried hours spent at cafés, and the devotion to the history and the arts speak to every part of who I am. And while I normally would buck stereotypes, the devotion to a long afternoon at a cafe sidewalk is very real.
I do own a few berets, but really it’s more than that. I want to immerse myself in it all. However, eventually that means going back to France and leaving Paris—which has a generous population of English-speakers—to learn about all the pieces of this delightful cultural puzzle.
Off the beaten path.
When I made my first visit to Paris in 2019, I found the Parisians very kind about speaking English if I couldn’t understand their French. Stumbling through a sentence in a store is stressful, but I’m grateful to everyone who met me half-way.
This time around, I’d like to blend in a little more. I want to hop off the beaten path and discover a place I can call my own, away from the hustle and bustle. But to do that, I need to be more confident in my ability to, well, get back on the path to wherever my hotel is, ha!
Back to school.
So, to sharpen my skills and gain enough confidence to do something as simple as take the bus, I’ll be taking classes at the Alliance Française de Chicago this summer!
College was a long time ago, and while I love a good workbook (no seriously, I do), my biggest weakness is in actually speaking the language.
It seems wild, I know. But attempting an accent as distinct as the French one in front of a French person feels about as stressful as giving a spontaneous speech to all of your co-workers.
What is this school anyway?
The Alliance Française (in general) is a non-profit, international organization that works to promote and educate the world about the Francophone (French-speaking) community. They have locations all over the world (even in Omaha!) and teach classes at all levels. They also hold interesting guest lectures, book clubs, film clubs, cooking classes, events (like the quickly approaching Bastille Day!), and offer tons of resources on a large variety of subjects.
The Chicago Campus
The Chicago Alliance is a treat. It’s a beautiful space in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago. The space has a lovely courtyard, a library with everything from classical literature to current magazines, and even a classroom dedicated to cooking demonstrations!
There are classrooms, and quiet spaces for studying, and it’s convenient location means I’ll be spending many afternoons in the library with my new buddy, Teddy.
Like I said, the classes are held at every level, from beginner to proficient, and are offered both in-person (Zoom) and online. Because it isn’t a traditional school, classes are offered at a variety of times during the day, including the evening so you can learn after work.
Classes are held Monday through Saturday, with select classes on the weekends. My class will be held over Zoom on a weekday evening, which is perfect because I can practice in my pajamas, and start off my week learning something new!
The classes are 2-hours long and while that might sound like a long time, I promise you it goes by quickly! The courses are 8-weeks long, so they’ll carry you through the hottest days of summer!
One thing that was difficult about classes in college was the size of the class. I ask A LOT of questions (okay fine, and I’m chatty). But the classes are small enough where you can actually test your skills to make sure you really are learning the material.
Class sizes average 6 students but can vary based on the skill level.
The great thing about learning as an adult is that you are making the choice to take your course. Unlike college, where you took a credit just to fill a category (ahem Aerobics), you, along with your peers are actively choosing to be there. And there’s a nice amount of camaraderie that comes from learning with people who are learning, just like you!
Tuition for the courses will depend on whether or not you’re a member of The Alliance or not. Becoming a member is simple, you can sign up here! Classes are $355 for members and $400 for non-members. I’d highly recommend becoming a member, because aside from the discount on your class, you also get access to the library and members-only events!
The classes are taught by instructors around the world—even as far as New Zealand—and they’re incredibly skilled, knowledgeable individuals!
(Just to be perfectly clear, no, these are not the books for the class, haha!)
Fear not. You can purchase your books from The Alliance, and in doing so, support a non-profit! If you’re in a pinch, you can also order them online, but once you register, you’ll find plenty of info on where to get your materials!
When do they start?
I’m so glad you asked! Initiation classes start this Saturday, June 26th for some levels! Early registration ends on Thursday, June 24th and then prices increase! So if you’re leaning toward taking a class, save yourself some pennies (that you can put toward a really divine cheese and wine), and register soon!
Okay, I’m in. How do I figure out my level?
Like I said, initiation classes start this Saturday. My class starts next week, so I’ve got one more weekend to practice my accent and brush up on some verbs, but if you’re not sure what level your high school level French puts you at, there are free trial classes tomorrow, Tuesday, June 22, and Wednesday, June 23rd!
You can pop in and the instructors will give an overview of what to expect from the course.
I did a placement test last week, and while that sounds stressful, it really wasn’t. I will admit I was nervous, but before I knew it, I was already [attempting] answers to questions in French, to a real French-speaking human!
Isn’t it time for something new?
We’ve all been cooped up for far too long, and if you’re like me, you’re ready to soak up everything this world has to offer. My adventures start at the Alliance Française de Chicago—where will yours begin?
This content is shared in partnership with the Alliance Française de Chicago, but of course all opinions are, bien sûr, my own.