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Student Spotlight: Lisa Kinney

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What was it about the Alliance Française that first interested you?
I was interested in the Alliance Française because of its reputation as being one of the best French language schools in the world.

Why french/francophone language/culture?
For me it was essential to learn the basics of French because my plan was to move to Paris the following year to get my Masters in Global Communications.

Why is it important to learn a new language?

It’s important to learn a new language because it helps you build more meaningful relationships with the native people of that country.

What is the most challenging thing about studying a new language?

The most challenging thing about studying a new language is understanding that it takes time to become fluent and you will definitely make mistakes.

What is your favorite thing you’ve done with French?

The favorite thing I’ve done with French was using the language while I was studying abroad in Paris and having the chance to work overseas.

Why do you think teaching your kids a new language is important?
It’s important to teach kids new languages because it gives them a more worldly perspective and an openness to learn and understand other cultures.

Finding Love at the Alliance Française

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By Monica Fredette (With input from Yves Fredette)

I met the love of my life on March 10, 2007 at Le Festival de la Francophonie at Chicago’s Alliance Française.

It all started with a look at current events in a “Time Out Chicago” magazine while awaiting my hairdresser, Parto Nadiri.  As I searched for upcoming events, I circled quite a few things of interest, but quickly honed in on the French event since I felt very at ease using my language skills learned in college and while studying in France.

At the time, it was a $15 ticket and I had a few friends who I thought would join me for an evening celebrating a culture I loved.  Unfortunately, none of my friends were free that night.  It was only due to my mother’s insistence that I go (because I had reported many wonderful experiences with FAC in NYC), that I braved it alone.

On that night, I decided to wear a beautiful Carolina Herrera dress because when I called to find out the dress code, a gentlemen at the Alliance responded:  “Madame, the ambassador of Haiti will be in attendance!”

So in I went with my navy Inès de la Fressange wool swing coat and high heels.  No one at the desk informed me that there was a coat room after I checked in, so up the staircase I went.  It seemed like a much bigger and wider staircase than in reality, but I was nervous about who I would see once I got to the top of the stairs.  I figured I would leave if I felt uncomfortable.

My eyes instantly caught sight of a very handsome man standing close to the top of the stairs.  It was obvious, I was out of place in my coat, and without hesitation, I said (as Polly Platt of “Savoir Flair” would have suggested):  excuse me, sir, but where is the coat check?”  Of course, she would have advised me to say “excusez-moi, Monsieur, mais où se trouve le vestiaire?”

My husband apparently winked at the man with whom he was chatting (confident he would spend the rest of the evening talking to me), and whisked me down the stairs to help me with my coat.  I guess he did not want to be presumptive that I wanted to go back to the party with him, so he left me on my own after hanging my coat….

Back up the staircase I went.  For no reason other than it was the first

La Raclette cheese at Soiree Commune 2017

room on the right, I walked into Canada.  It turns out my husband is a French Canadian, and he seemed to be on his way out as I walked in.  I made the visit brief, then entered the Switzerland room across the hall and got in line for my all time favourite thing, La Raclette.  There was the heavenly nutty fragrance of the melted gruyere cheese that they were sliding onto boiled potatoes and serving with cornichons pickles, cocktail onions, a dash of paprika, and a glass of white wine — an incredibly seductive combination!  (I don’t ski, but am told this is what everyone eats in the mountains après-ski).

Even more seductive was the man who had helped me with my coat had reappeared in line behind me!  All I know is we never took our eyes off one another the rest of the evening.  We went back at least 2 more times for more raclette. We conversed about all the ways his French name was spelled throughout history:  Fradet, Fradette, Fredette, Frédette….and he wrote all spellings on a Romanian Consulate card (another guest at this event).  Then he wrote down 2 of his phone numbers and an e-mail!  We perused a table full of French books for sale, and I bought “Lisa in York,” which I still have on our bookshelf.  Throughout the night, we spoke French.

Eventually, he offered to walk me home.  It was a beautiful night as we slowly strolled toward Chicago Ave.  Not far from the Alliance is Holy Name Cathedral, which we saw as we approached the corner of Chicago and State.   I told Yves that Holy Name was my church.  He said he went there, too!  Who knew that in 2008, we would be getting married at that very church?!

Just this past week, we went for our 10th year in a row to Le Festival de la Francophonie.  It happened to fall on the exact day we met 10 years ago!  The funny thing is that my husband had been going to this particular event on and off for 10 years prior to me showing up.  Guess luck was on my side that night as it was my first time going.

We cannot thank the Alliance enough for their dedication to bringing all French cultures together for this special night and for all the cultural events they host throughout the year.  We have met so many interesting people with whom we connect based on our shared love of the French language, French food, film, cooking, literature, decorative arts lectures, etc.   We feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to have this cultural institution within walking distance from home.  It has transformed our lives!  Thank You Alliance Française for making our lives better!!!

AF Student Spotlight: Dennis Smithenry

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AF Student Spotlight: Dennis Smithenry


When Dennis Smithenry learned that his ancestors were from Alsace, France, he became motivated to learn French in honor of his family heritage. His journey at the Alliance Française de Chicago began in 2012 when he became a member and started taking French classes.

Growing up in southern Illinois on a farm, his community did not place much value on learning foreign languages. Before starting French classes at the Alliance, Dennis had only taken French in high school, where the curriculum was more focused on writing than speaking. Dennis now benefits from a more well-rounded approach to learning French. “I try to balance the main four: listening, speaking, writing, and reading,” he says.


An education professor at Elmhurst College, Dennis is passionate about learning. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Dennis also conducted postdoctoral research in environmental engineering and science education at Stanford University. You can view his professor bio here.

During his sabbatical, Dennis has been able to combine his academic interests with his love for French by presenting his research in French at a conference in Montréal. Dennis attended the Congrès de l’ACFAS (Association francophonie pour le savoir) from May 9 to May 13, 2016.

In his 25-minute presentation, entitled “Conceptualisation et enseignement – planifier et enseigner à partir des concepts,” he discussed how to plan a course from start to finish, and also, how to teach a student to plan courses effectively. One of the main ideas that Dennis covered was “macro-planification à rebours,” or backwards planning. This method involves starting with the end, or the learning, first. Then, a teacher designs an effective course from start to finish based on the desired end result.

Dennis loved being immersed in the French language while he was in Montréal, both at the conference and with a language partner that he met online. He went to see a play in French and also conversed in French with his AirBnB host. He is thankful for the experience.

For four years, Dennis has been dedicated to taking French classes at the Alliance and learning French in his free time as a hobby. “I think this speaks to the well-thought-out program,” he says. “The books build off of one another very well and the curriculum is more focused on speaking French rather than just writing it.”

Dennis said that he is often critical of curriculum and pedagogical techniques because he specializes in education. However, he believes that the pedagogy at the Alliance Française de Chicago is extremely effective.

He enjoys how challenging the French language can be and looks forward to continuing his studies.”Language learning is a puzzle,” he says. “The more you learn, the more complex it becomes.”



An inspirational story at the Alliance …

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As we enter a new year, we wanted to share with you what we believe is a very inspirational story about one of our students.

Meet Marc!  

Marc is a Chicagoan who plans on moving to France next year. This is what brought him to the Alliance where he has been studying for a year now.

Marc is an amicable, enthusiastic and highly dedicated student who had no previous French experience. However, his hard work and motivation have allowed him to start his very own French blog!

His scrapbook-like feeds do not aim to be perfect but rather communicate about his life and his projects in French. And they do just that. Indeed, they are easy to read and to understand for well-trained Francophiles and beginners alike.

 So check out his blog “On va y arriver” (we will make it) and join us as we congratulate Marc on his tremendous achievement.

Bravo et bonne continuation à lui et à tous nos étudiants.


 PS If you know of similar initiatives you would like for us to highlight on the blog, or if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave us a message.