Campus says “bonjour” to new French class

Pierce College now offers French classes, taught by Professor Nathalie Thomaszewski.

Daniel Pollock, Reporter

Her office is one of the tables in the College Center. It’s circled by a few, scattered chairs filled with inquiring students. A coffee and a Cup of Noodles sit in front of her as she works. Back and forth like ping-pong balls, “bonjour’s” and “merci’s” fly through the air. Her hands fling words to her students.

New adjunct French professor Nathalie Tomaszewski, a native of France, first came to America as an exchange student.

Early in her education, Tomaszewski paused to become a stay-at-home mom. Later, Tomaszewski decided to return to higher education. She worked at North Seattle College and Central Washington University before she heard Pierce was looking for a French professor.

At Pierce, Tomaszewski said her goal is to make the class fun and engaging for her students. She wants them to know each other and to make them laugh. Inspired by a salsa class, Tomaszewski has her students “change partners” during in-class conversation practice. She wants to keep her students on their toes. Because of all this action, Tomaszewski burns a lot of energy while teaching.

“I’m usually pretty tired (after class),” Tomaszewski said. “It’s like a performance for me. I’m pretty drained after it, I feel like I’ve been on a stage for two hours. But I feel really good. I’m very happy.”

Tomaszewski believes students have to be fully engaged in class and in homework to truly learn a new language.

According to Tomaszewski, language isn’t math where a student can zone out in class. They have to be completely engaged in the class and in the learning material.

The class isn’t merely about speaking a language, it’s also about understanding a culture.

Aside from the usual grammar, Tomaszewski’s class is focused on conversation, collaboration and communication. Tomaszewski says these three ‘C’s’ are a vehicle for cultural differences.

In class, Thomaszewski teaches students about the culture of every Francophonic (French-speaking) country, such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Louisiana, which is considered to be a Francophone culture.

“Culture is everything,” Tomaszewski said. “It’s everywhere and everything. It’s every part of ourselves.”

Tomaszewski is convinced that understanding other cultures helps people better understand themselves. She has a dream of making Pierce a cultural center, a place where locals and tourists can come to campus to look at local art, watch plays or see performances or locally produced films. Her purpose in this cultural hub is to give visitors an understanding of the local life and culture. She said Paris has many of these cultural centers around and outside the city.

The class is also coupled with a club. Though the club was Tomaszewski’s idea, it’s led by Pierce Student Byron Burns. Just like the class, the club is focused on Francophonic culture.

“We try to immerse ourselves in French culture,” Burns said. “We want to learn about the art, the food, the music and the lifestyles of the people living there.”

According to Burns, the club will focus on a different Francophone country each week. At each meeting students will discuss its art and music; they’ll also eat food local to the focused country. The club plans to take different extra-curricular excursions, such as touring the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. Thirty-five students have already joined the club, which meets in the dining commons in the College Center.

The college added a French class to its catalog after students and faculty members petitioned for a French option. Jarrod Smith, a Pierce student, created the petition after he learned he needed two foreign language classes to transfer to the University of Washington. Smith said he was particularly interested in learning French and wanted Pierce to offer the class.

Working with a friend, Smith wrote the petition and then wandered the campus asking for signatures. He had gathered 250 names by the second day.

Among those who take the class is Britney Taylor, diversity and equity coordinator for the Office of Student Life. Because of the high levels of Spanish Taylor completed in high school, she was too advanced to continue in the language at Pierce. Taylor said she wanted to learn another romantic language, though, which is why she chose to learn French.

“I like that (the class) is really interactive,” Taylor said. “It’s not a lecture whatsoever. We’re always moving, we’re always talking. I like that Nathalie is really energetic.”

Tomaszewski was excited to see the students’ interest in a French class, but is concerned with the lack of emphasis on foreign language in the modern American education system. She believes learning a new language takes students outside of their own mindset and immerses them in a new culture.

“I remember one of my teachers saying that to learn a language is to see a different reality,” Tomaszewski said. “When you speak a (new) language you feel differently, you see differently. It’s an exploration of reality through different lenses.”

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Daniel Pollock

Campus says “bonjour” to new French class

by Daniel Pollock time to read: 3 min