Sept. 1 2017 03:13 AM

Local French-language cultural center provides a week of free classes


Gaëlle Cassin-Ross teaches students at Aux Petits Soins.
Courtesy Photo

When she arrived in Michigan in 2009 to do biological research for MSU, Gaëlle Cassin-Ross, 34, didn’t know she’d be teaching French in Lansing. In fact, she said that at first, it was completely circumstantial.

“I didn’t decide. I was asked to. When I had my first son in 2014, I decided to take some time off because I wanted to really focus on the first few months of his life and enjoy them,” Cassin-Ross said. “We spent a lot of time in the community getting every book available for kids between 0 and 2. People heard me speaking French to my kid and they asked me, ‘Could you teach French to my kid?’”

Cassin-Ross said that at first, she didn’t feel comfortable doing that — although a native speaker, she had never taught French to anyone in a classroom setting. But the requests kept coming and before long, Cassin-Ross was studying teaching methods.

“I started going to immersion classes to see how other people were doing it and when I started feeling comfortable, by that time, my son was six months,” Cassin-Ross said.

Eventually, Cassin-Ross would start the fittingly titled Aux Petits Soins — an idiom that means “to take tender care of.” At first, the organization was designed to teach French, but Cassin-Ross said that her goal is to make it a well-rounded cultural center.

“I believe that language is only the passport to have access to a culture,” Cassin-Ross said. “When you think about a language, you don’t necessarily just think about the language, you think about everything coming as a baggage with a language. So, when you come to Aux Petits Soins, you can better understand French culture.”

At first, Aux Petits Soins offered French classes that only covered the ages of 0 to 4 years old, but now students through 12 years old can attend classes at center. Aux Petits Soins also offers courses for adults from beginner to advanced levels.

Now an established Lansing institution, Cassin-Ross has decided to do something big to commemorate her culture, by sponsoring Aux Petits Soins’ first ever French Culture Appreciation Week. The festivities will be commemorated with a week of free French classes to show the public what the center is all about, and there will be a prize giveaway — a basket filled to the brim with $250 worth of gifts from French-themed local businesses and associations.

Each day of the week, interested participants are invited to pay attention to the center’s Facebook page. There, Cassin-Ross will live stream an interview with one of the chosen businesses and associations, providing details for how to enter the drawing to receive the basket.

Cassin-Ross said that if a younger student is the winner of the drawing, the gift will be “age-appropriate.”

She said that parents and students can also expect the same “age-appropriate” treatment in classes.

“What will happen is that for kids that are not verbal, parents can expect kids to start following directions. So for example, if we say something like, ‘Touch your head, touch your feet,’ even if the kid cannot actually say ‘head’ or ‘feet’ yet, they can actually start doing it. And that will start pretty early,” Cassin-Ross said. “For the kids aged 3 to 5, now they can expect the kids to start answering the questions clearly. In the class between 6 and 12 we start having conversations.”

Cassin-Ross encourages new students to not be intimidated if they at first don’t understand all directions.

“What you will notice is when you get to an immersion class you won’t understand everything, but when your child starts learning their native language, they do not understand everything. I can tell you that my 18-month-year-old understands maybe 20 percent of what I’m saying but it doesn’t bother him,” Cassin-Ross said. “My first aim is to get my adult students to accept that they won’t understand everything, but that they’ll start hearing and all they need to do is to understand maybe one or two key words to understand the overall meaning of a sentence. The overall aim is to learn to accept being immersed.”

First Annual French Culture Appreciation Week

Monday, Sept. 4-Saturday, Sept. 9

FREE.

French classes offered throughout the week.

Aux Petits Soins, 1824 E. Michigan Ave.,

Lansing.

(517) 999-7277.

apfrenchclass.com.