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Charles Lafon, B.A. expected 2024, English and Architectural Studies

Charles, B.A. expected 2024, English and Architectural Studies

My mom, born and raised in the Twin Cities, was and is to this day a total Francophile. In secondary school, like many other kids at the time, she studied French. People used to study languages out of a personal passion for the culture that language represented, not because they wanted to build up their resume. Language learning was once an end unto itself, and it makes me sad that many students nowadays feel like they "have" to learn a particular language because it is seen as "more useful." All languages are useful. Study what interests you.

Anyway, my mother took a trip to Paris as part of a study abroad program during her years as an undergraduate. There, completely by chance, she met and fell for my father – I won't digress into the whole story. But it is interesting how taking a trip abroad, and being a little adventurous while you're there, can totally change the course of your life.

After spending a lot of time back-and-forth between the States and France, my parents finally settled down in Chicago, where I was born. I grew up speaking English, but every summer when we would travel to France to visit family, I was surrounded by the sounds of French – my father, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, my cousins. I think that this listening was really crucial to my linguistic development, because when I first began studying French in school, I picked up on the pronunciation and "flow" very quickly.

I actually only rarely heard French in the home; though I remember fondly how my mom would announce dinner every night when I was younger with the French exclamation, "à table!" ("to the table!"). Sometimes, my dad would say "on y va!" ("let's go!") when we left the house to run errands together. But it wasn't like I was speaking French at home on a regular basis. So I had to study it through the school system where I grew up. By the time I graduated high school, I was proficient enough to call myself "bilingual" in French and English. What I usually tell people is that I speak French well enough to work at a Parisian McDonalds: I'm conversational, but my vocabulary is limited. The nice thing is that vocabulary is much easier to pick up through experience than grammar and pronunciation. I'm sure that if I were to spend an extended period of time living in France, my lexicon would grow very quickly.

I decided to study French because I wanted to understand the world that I saw in bits and pieces as a child. Since I didn't grow up in France or speaking French, I've never fully considered the French culture "my own." I knew my mom and dad sometimes did things differently from other kids' parents but I didn't always understand why. I felt like in order to understand that part of my upbringing I needed to learn the language.

I took my first French course at UIC in Fall 2021. It was French in the Professions with Prof. Robert and I really enjoyed it – our French class community was super tight and we had really meaningful discussions that went beyond just practicing our foreign language skills.

I'm thinking about becoming a peer tutor because it seems like a great way to stay connected with the French-learning community at UIC. I think we have a really strong department here full of really passionate students.