UW-Eau Claire French Program gains national recognition

The program recently received honors from the American Association of Teachers of French

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Photo by Kendall Ruchti

Professor Jessica Miller teaches French 430, which focuses on French language diversity around the world.

French continues to be relevant and valuable to UW-Eau Claire students, as the program receives national recognition.

The UW-Eau Claire French program’s recent designation by the American Association of Teachers of French (AATF) as an Exemplary Program with Honors reflects its continuing relevance as a quality, modern French program, associate professor of French Jessica Miller said. This, she said, is “a great honor.”

The award to honor exemplary programs was instituted by the AATF in 2014 and necessitates French programs that receive the honor  include a high enrollment in French language classes over an extended period, demonstrate high teacher qualifications, engage in innovative practices based on current methods and provide strong curriculum.

“We offer ways to teach languages that are aligned with current teaching methods and pedagogy,” Miller said.

Students can be assured the Eau Claire French program will address both their needs and the job market needs as far as training them to use the language, teaching them about culture and using methods that will help them with proficiency, Miller said.

She said such national recognition of Eau Claire’s French program shows the quality of education students receive here.

“My hopes are that students realize the importance of knowing a language other than English for not just their career, but for their health and their personal enjoyment,” Miller said.

Emerson Freybler, a senior studying French, said he didn’t have much interest in French until taking French 101 at Eau Claire with Professor of French Patrick Day. He had taken French 8-10th grade and been taught by a native French speaker, but it wasn’t until his first semester at Eau Claire that the language “clicked,” he said.

“It just took one semester with Dr. Day, and even though it was all review I was loving it,” Freybler said. “I was loving trying to pronounce everything, I was loving learning the weird idiomatic expressions that just change the way you think about a word or a concept.”

Freybler said he has been very impressed with the French program at Eau Claire. The professors helped ignite his interest in the language, which caused him to switch from a major in history education to a major in French.  

“The professors here, they all do a great job of capturing the attention of their students and showing them those funny little tricks of the language and all the ways the language is beautiful,” Freybler said.

The professors make sure to provide a variety of opportunities in the community, he said. Professor Miller set him up with his service learning, which was at a French immersion camp in the Concordia Language Villages in Bemidji, Minnesota.

“With what they’re working with, with only having three staff members, they’re doing a great job,” Freybler said.

The Eau Claire French program comprises three professors: Associate Professor Jessica Miller, Visiting Professor in French Kelly Biers and Professor Patrick Day.

The language programs at Eau Claire are assets students might not realize are there, Professor Miller said. The German section was designated as a Center of Excellence by the American Association of Teacers of German in 2015.

Miller said French is special in the sense that English has borrowed a lot from it, and that by studying French students will learn a lot about English.

Alyse Korpela, a senior studying French, said one of the most interesting parts of learning French is seeing the similarities between French and English, whether that be in words or in grammatical structures.

“We learn English so easily because it’s what we grow up hearing, so we never think about structures or where other words come from or how we get a lot of our language,” Korpela said.

French is used more often in the United States than students might imagine, Miller said. There are French dialects spoken in Louisiana and Maine, as well as a dialect very similar to French called Walloon, which is spoken in the Green Bay area.

“There are a lot of businesses in Eau Claire tied to French speaking countries,” Miller said. “That might be a professional asset for students even if they don’t plan on traveling.”

Freybler hopes to use the communication skills he obtained through receiving his degree in French from Eau Claire to continue making connections and opening doors in his future, even if he doesn’t directly use French in his day-to-day life.

“I just love that they’re a really great resource not just for classes or content but also for using the language in real life ways,” Freybler said. “People don’t understand how important language can be. I think once they begin studying it in depth they’ll really start to better understand their neighbors and their communities and communities around the world.”