Boston — French not only spoken here, but taught here.m
The French Library occupies a beautiful old town house on Marlborough Street in Boston's Back Bay. The visitor enters a spacious hall leading to a sweeping staircase. Many lovely antiques provide the ambience of French romanticism, in vivid contrast to the noisy street outside.
This unique, independent institution, which started during World War II, has grown to encompass a host of educational and cultural activities.
The library's primary functions are the lending of French books and the teaching of French. It also offers a variety of other educational opportunities. Lessons in French cuisine, lectures, book reviews, classical music concerts, and picnics are all sponsored by the library.
Boston's French Library has a close association with the French Consulate, situated nearby, and with a library in Paris which yearly sends three French librarians for training.
For all ages and various life styles, the library offers classes in French literature and business French. Asked about the ''average'' student, library director Mylo Housen answered: ''There is no typical student. Our doors are open to all, from teen-agers to grandmothers.''
She feels the library is special because it caters to the individual. The smallness of the classes allows each student to get the attention he or she needs. The atmosphere is one of informality and warmth, with books to supplement in-class learning.
Marga McCormick, head instructor, explained how classes are taught from a four-point approach: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
The library contains 40,000 French volumes, giving students the opportunity to escape the dryness of traditional textbooks. Books of fiction, classics, or stories of French life are available at various reading levels.
To encourage writing skills, students are expected to perform a lesson each class and take it home to study. They are also expected to give reports.
Tapes provide the auditory teaching aids.
The most important of the four approaches, all at the library agree, is conversation. All classes are taught in French, from simple stories to discussing news events at the higher levels.
Ms. McCormick invited me to sit in on a beginning class, now in the tenth week. The conversational ability and understanding of the students were impressive. Each had been assigned to read a short story. Next, they had to write a review of the story, and finally, while I was in the class, each one read aloud his review in French.
Occasionally the instructor would intervene to explain a new word or expression. She would also stop to make sure all were following the lesson. In this four-member class, each student was given individual attention. Even so, the instructor only spoke a few English words the whole session.
A beginning-level textbook contained the written assignments that students were expected to do. Supplementing the text were four tapes, which could be bought or signed out for listening at home.
The classes were defined as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Marga McCormick, however, explained that individuality is the key: ''We attempt to place each student in a course suitable to his level and his goals. The courses are designed around the students. There is no rigid format to follow.''
For example, students may want more structure and less conversation. They are encouraged to take private lessons that focus strictly on grammar.
The informality of the classes, and the fact that no tests or credits are given, make them hard to compare with college- or high-school-level courses.
Ms. McCormick says that ''learning French is hard work; students get out of it what they put in.'' She believes that if students work at it they will learn.
Those at the French Library agree that the individuality and flexibility of their classes are special. The cultural activities and choice of many books make learning easier and more fun.
While some of the lectures are free, most of those who use the library take out a membership and also pay a fee for class teaching, tutorials, and other educational sessions. The main support of the French Library, however, comes from donations from local businesses and fund-raising drives.