The Bates Student runs a column featuring an invaluable part of Bates’ academic community—foreign language teaching assistants. These TAs provide foreign language students with firsthand cultural interaction and strengthen their abilities to converse with native speakers. This week, I spoke with the college’s French teaching assistant, Franck Dumergue, about bleu cheese, lobster, and adjusting to American life.
Madeline Polkinghorn (MP): Bonjour, Franck! Where are you from?
Franck Dumergue (FD): I am from a village [in France] called Pérignat-Lès-Sarliève, nearby Clermont-Ferrand where I was born. The city is the largest of the region where I live, well-known for a black stone cathedral. There is a beautiful old chain of volcanoes and it is the birthplace of the Michelin man and the tire company of the same name.
MP: What do you do here at Bates?
FD: I am the French assistant at the department of French and Francophone Studies. My time there is devoted for a major part to helping students with their classes and homework… So I do a lot of grammar revisions or checks. They know they can come freely anytime on my office hours, even just to say “hi”… So far I have also followed the students in beginner, intermediate, and oral French, which has proved very interesting and enriching. The idea is generally to create activities according to what the professors expect us to work on with the students. I am [present] every Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30pm at the Francophone table as well, where students and anyone who speaks French and who is willing to maintain it is welcome to sit, eat, and have a chat.
MP: Why did you decide to teach French as a foreign language?
FD: Similarly to my friend and colleague Andrea, the German TA from Austria, I have studied English literature and history (and more) at university, and for a long time I have wanted to become a teacher. I have actually graduated from English teaching in secondary school back in France, technically making me an English teacher there already. I enjoy teaching and teaching language very much, so it sounded natural to me to try out my chance as a French TA. Also, I was already a language assistant a few years ago in a high school near Glasgow, Scotland, and I liked the idea to come here to Bates to diversify my teaching experience… I hope that my experiences abroad will enable me to diversify my teaching career too… which could be devoted to teaching French to foreign students within the French education system.
MP: What are some of your favorite things about your home country? What do you miss the most?
FD: Food is definitely one of my favorite things about my home country, and being back there for a week after winter break showed me how much I missed it too. I love cheese in as many forms as possible, my favorite being bleu cheese. We also have this dish which is awfully delicious that you would eat especially in the winter, but there is always a good reason to eat anytime all year round. It is basically potatoes with onion and parsley cooked in a large pan (because you generally share it with people) and melted local cheese. Simply amazing, with dry ham and dry sausage slices. What I love about my area, too, is the old chain of volcanoes I was talking about earlier. It is such a typical landscape that each time you go back there you just long to see it to feel like home… As I said food is something I missed a lot, and oddly enough good bread is part of the top food I missed, though I don’t usually eat it so much at home. But it’s a must have for breakfast, for sure. What I missed the most I think are my family, my dog and my friends… a lot!
MP: Do you have any tips for someone attempting to learn French?
FD: As far as French is concerned, you have to be ready for the grammar, which may look tough at first sight with exceptions to rules everywhere, but I dearly believe that it all makes sense in the end… The goal is not to understand everything right from the start. It is more an endurance test; you need to be steady. One more thing I would advise for anyone interested in French is to read, watch, or listen to the news, especially if you are fond of politics as there’s a lot going on at the moment with the yellow jacket movement in France or the election crisis in Algeria. I would probably not advise to do this in French to everyone but even in English, trying to learn about a country goes through keeping up with the news from time to time.