“Bonjour! Ça va?” Madame Maryse Mijalski says as she greets students walking into HIB 235. The students seat themselves on the available couches and chairs after grabbing slices of pizza. Orangina and macarons, typical French snacks, are laid out on the table for students to enjoy. This is the weekly La Table Française.
La Table Française, or literally “the French table,” is one of the many French cultural events hosted by the French Language Program and the French Club. It is a casual meeting where students who appreciate French language and seek an opportunity to practice can meet together to enjoy lunch, play games and converse in French.
French Language Program’s Mme. Mijalski is a French lecturer and Academic Coordinator at UC Irvine. She grew up in France and used to be a graduate student at UCI, teaching French since 1994. She is also the head of this meeting, which occurs every Thursday from 2 to 3 p.m..
“The French Language Program has a long tradition of offering extracurricular events to practice French,” Mme. Mijalski said. “Lecturers and French TAs from other departments in [the] Humanities volunteer their time to make those opportunities possible.”
Some of the other opportunities in the past include trips to the Getty museum, a carnival focusing on French culture and a film series called Çine-club.
Despite many advanced students participating in La Table Française, French speakers of any level are welcome, and while French is the major language spoken, directions and information are also translated into English. The meeting includes casual conversation and a few rounds of fun games, such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Telephone. Of course, the games are all played in French.
“We want to make it different from class, and want students to be involved every week,” Mme. Mijalski said. “Originally we had more conversation, but it’s better to have games.”
Among the students participating in the event is Courtney Nguyen, a fifth-year who heads the French Club. Nguyen grew up learning French and found a passion for the language and the culture. She helps host many French cultural events on campus, including movie nights, bowling and picnics. The club meetings occur on alternate weeks and the goal is to speak as much French as possible.
“When you speak it, it helps you communicate better,” Nguyen said. “I believe that if you immerse yourself in the language, you pick it up.”
Nguyen is a French major and biology minor, devoted to encouraging others to participate in the cultural activities and learn the language. She has been the president of the French Club since her third year.
“I love French, it’s my passion,” Nguyen said. “I learned it since I was four and grew up with it.”
Nguyen’s parents and grandparents spoke French as well as Vietnamese, and she had the opportunity to visit France several times, citing Paris as her favorite city. Her love for the language is evident not only with her major and activities, but also with her thesis about the French revolution, written completely in French.
“I think any language is important to know. Growing up with three languages, I know it is good for people to know different languages,” Nguyen said. “It exercises your mind. It’s just really important and makes you cultured and worldly too.”
Nguyen is also working together with Mme. Mijalski to host a dinner event at Pescadou, a French restaurant located in Newport Beach. The students who are participating will have a chance to try French cuisine while conversing with each other and the waiters in French.
“Students don’t have many opportunities to practice French in Orange County, and you have to have a community of speakers in order to learn French,” Mme. Mijalski said. “We are creating a community of language speakers.”
Indeed, the students at La Table Française are comfortable speaking to each other in French, the mix of advanced and beginner students helping each other learn. Even the round of French Telephone was played with good humor, as the original sentence about “le chat” or cat, was twisted around the room to end as “le château” or castle.
Students also have an opportunity to watch films hosted by the volunteers of the French Language program every quarter. The theme, which varies, is “Histoire(s) de France” this quarter and a set of three films will be featured to both French and Film and Media students.
“Film and Media Studies has been very gracious to let us use McCormick Screening Room for the past three years,” Mme. Mijalski said. “There is a presentation before to explain the context of the movie, and it is open to everyone so there are subtitles.”
Despite the limitations of cultural events and activities around UCI, the French Club and French Language Program provide many opportunities for students to immerse themselves in the culture and learn about the language.
“I truly believe in creating a French language community on campus to encourage students to pursue a foreign language and learn about another culture,” Mme. Mijalski said. “It is a lot of effort, but we love it. We’re teachers for a reason.”