This article first appeared in City Files, Us Magazine, The News Pakistan on 17 August 2018
Can you speak French? Yeah, a little bit! Croissant, crêpe, macaron, creme brûlée, éclairs, soufflé … is all I can say in French, duh!
I better go take some classes at Alliance Française de Karachi (AFK).
In university, when some of our class fellows chose French as their minor, people weren’t really convinced and they asked all sorts of questions: what are you going to do after learning French? How will French help you get a good job? Who are you going to talk to in French? Are you planning to move to France in the future? Anyway, these apprehensions didn't stop them from taking classes. Later, we heard from our friends that their French teacher had made French difficult for them and they were doing poorly. There was hardly any communication taking place in the class and students had no sense of direction. Unfortunately, many of them had to change subjects later on.
This happens when language learning is only restricted to extraneous grammatical rules. Language learning should be joyful and interactive,
Maliha Ali, the Marketing and Communications Strategist at AFK and a student of French, shares what it is like to study French and what makes AFK a special place to experience French culture in Karachi.
About Alliance Française de Karachi
“AFK has been promoting the French language and culture for over 60 years. Our Karachi chapter is part of the larger international non-profit organisation, the Foundation Alliance Française, which was founded in Paris in 1883 by luminaries like Jules Verne and Louis Pasteur. Today, the foundation has more than 850 centres in 137 countries.
“We’re not just a language school but also a cultural centre. We have a robust programme of concerts, shows, exhibitions and talks by Pakistani and French artists, writers and performers. AFK has a library, a café, a bookshop, and an art gallery for visitors. We also offer workshops on art, yoga, photography, performing arts, etc.
“We even host the French archaeological team while they carry out excavation projects in Pakistan as well as researchers from universities like Sciences Po.”
Language immersion at AFK
“Unlike typical language learning centres, we don’t make students sit and cram textbooks. A language is a living thing and it should be treated as such! So in our classes, we learn from French songs, radio, news articles, poetry, event posters and board games; we also discuss French culture and history.
“Every Tuesday evening, we have Ciné Club where we screen French films and documentaries with English subtitles. Often, we have potluck lunches with students and members where everyone brings a French dish and gets to interact with other French speakers and learners. Our students and members also get to interact with visiting French performers and artists. For instance, earlier this year, Monsieur Laurent Decol came here for a fantastic mime, mask and puppet show and a huge audience showed up. All of our events are free and open to the public. You can drop in anytime to say bonjour to us and chat in French!"
“Our group learning classes focus on reading, speaking, listening and writing in French at different levels. There is also the option of private lessons and classes focused on just practicing French conversation. We offer a new batch of classes for kids and adults every two months. Mastering the French language is divided into six broad levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2). These are further divided into sub-levels.”
Opportunities for French learners
“Many of our students go to study and work in France and other French-speaking countries. Campus France’s Pakistan chapter is available to help students who wish to study in France, from application to settling in and finding a job while you’re studying. Students at AFK can easily get recommendation letters which really adds to their profile.
“Interestingly, the field of archaeology in Pakistan is full of French speakers as the governments of France and Pakistan have been collaborating in this field for decades. Many of our archaeologists get training in France and are therefore fluent French speakers.”
It’s crazy in here
“Even if you’re completely distorting French, it’s so much fun to say French words out loud. In a lot of ways, knowledge of English language helps! English has borrowed thousands of words from French (mayonnaise, resume, fiancée, etc. are all French words).
Even the script of French is similar to English except for some tricky letters.
“But there are a couple of things in French language that will throw you off! For instance, verlan is a French language phenomenon where words are said backwards and is commonly used as street slang. For example, the word ‘femme’ (girl) become ‘meuf’, the word ‘fou’ (crazy) becomes ‘ouf’. First you have to figure out what’s the right French word and then you have to learn it the other way round.
“Like Urdu, there is a distinction between formal and informal address in French. English speakers use pronoun ‘you’ to address everybody, but French speakers will have to make a choice between ‘tu’ (informal) and ‘vous’ (formal) depending on their relationship with the person. It’s like ‘aap’ and ‘tum/tu’ in Urdu.
“Then, comes the gendering of objects in the languages. In Urdu, objects like knife, pencil, tea are feminine and fork, pen, tree are masculine. French, too, is a gendered language: ‘knife’ is masculine and ‘fork’ is feminine, for instance.
“When applied to people according to their professions, it can be written in either a feminine or masculine form. ‘Director’, for example, is ‘directeur’ in the masculine, and ‘directrice’ in the feminine. And, usually, the masculine represents the universal.
“Such striking similarities between Urdu and French really excite the learners.”
Other resources for learners
"Today, there are ample resources for language learners. If you are interested in learning French and don't have time to properly take courses, you can check out some amazing courses online.
"I think Duolingo is a great online platform for that. I used it to practise French when there was no community around and I really needed guidance to move ahead. And yeah, I found it extremely useful!
“Coffee Break French is another amazing podcast that exposes you to everyday French. Then, funny YouTube videos work wonders; who doesn't love to watch silly stuff? Listen to modern French songs and watch movies. Amélie is a great one! You can also get access to Culturethéque, free digital library offering a wide range of French e-Books, audiobooks, magazines, films, documentaries and plays online.”