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Expat, alum offers Francophiles a word a day

Kristin Espinasse
January 06, 2012

Editor's Note: This story comes to us from the December 2011 edition of ASU Magazine.

When she enrolled in ASU’s French program in the 1980s, little did ASU alumnus Kristin Espinasse know that she would eventually tutor more than 42,000 students in the language and culture of France via the Internet.

Her popular blog French Word-A-Day introduces those curious about Gallic ways to the country’s language via personal experiences, recipes, photos and other items. Her passion for all things French has led her to publish a book “Words in a French Life.”

Espinasse’s adventure began in the fall of 1989 when she spent the semester in Lille, France. She credits ASU’s grammar drills and language labs with preparing her well for the experience, thus increasing the benefits of the exchange program. She also notes that Dr. and Mrs. Wollam, her hosts during her initial excursion in the country, helped her extend her initial stay by facilitating independent study projects and encouraged her to “dig in” and really apply herself to learn the language.

After returning to ASU to complete her degree, Espinasse realized she had left her heart in France, quite literally. She returned to marry her husband Jean-Marc and start a family, two situations that have provided ample opportunities to polish her language skills.

“Being married to a French national – and rearing children on French turf – has greatly contributed to both perfecting the language and understanding the culture,” says Espinasse, who lives in Provence with Jean-Marc and children Max and Jackie.

One of the ironic benefits of raising children who are native French speakers is that they offer mid-sentence corrections of their mother’s grammar.

“The truth is I find it enjoyable to receive live ‘language edits’ from my kids,” she says, laughing. “I began learning French eons before they did ... only to be left in the dust of their spinning language wheels as they advance with finesse in the language of Proust!”

While admitting to missing certain aspects of the Arizona desert – including wildflowers, the red rock landscapes, roadrunners, quail and coyotes – she says she is very happy living at the “garage vineyard” her husband purchased five years ago. Recently, the couple was able to share their love of French wine culture with nearly 50 students from Napa Valley, Calif.

According to Espinasse, those inspired by her example can expand their knowledge of French by seeking out native speakers, participating in French “meet-ups” over the Internet, and immersing themselves in French movies and music. To would-be French speakers, she says: “Je vous souhaite beaucoup de succes (I wish you a lot of success).”

Written by Oriana Parker, a Scottsdale-based freelance arts writer