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From Cindy Crawford to Facebook friends, linguistics group converses in the language of love

Just before 2 p.m., they start dribbling in to the New Port Richey Public Library, intent on pursuing the art of conversation.

During the winter, the long table in the second-floor meeting room is typically full of members of "Bonjour mes amis," but come summer, the Canadians fly North, leaving a smaller gathering of French speakers to carry on.

There's Ginette Lleo, who was born in a town called Cavaillon, and Marguerite Pautard, who moved here with her husband from Bourges, France, some 30 years ago.

Jacqueline Jackson came to know the traveling, military lifestyle after falling in love with her first husband, an American G.I. she met in Orleans.

"I'm married to Andrew Jackson," she says with a wink. "And his name is on the $20 bill."

The French linguists' group includes other military wives like Suzanne Mitchell, who didn't know a whit of English when she came to the United States from Toulouse, and Genevieve R. Morin, who arrived in Brooklyn in 1957 at the age of 17. She's just back from Montreal bearing gifts: a package of roasted chestnuts and a small tin of Les Anis de Flavigny hard candies.

Elaine and Larry Dunning are American-born, avid bicyclists intent on honing their French language skills.

Being immersed with others seems to help, Elaine said.

While sharing a photo album from the couple's trip to Germany a few years ago, she said, "I need to be here, because when you go to France, you need to know how to speak French, especially in the rural areas we bike through."

Sometimes the group members even become teachers.

"The language has changed some over the years, so sometimes they ask me what word to use," Larry said. "Words like 'computer,' 'mouse' and 'microwave.' "

Michael Lewis, a University of South Florida student who works at the library as an information specialist, is also part of the French-speaking group. When he was growing up, he learned the language from his neighbors and best friends, who had come from Montreal, so he is fluent.

"We talk about whatever comes up," Lewis said, noting that sometimes members bring in photographs or other trinkets after vacationing in France or elsewhere to help spark a discussion.

In the course of a couple of hours, they chat about a variety of things — from the coverage they watched of the Tour de France on television and the beautiful scenery that some occasionally pine for, to the poppy-covered fields of Normandy, to the grandkids they keep up with on Facebook, to supermodel Cindy Crawford who, by the way, has been pitching beauty products made from Cavaillon melons that are harvested from Lleo's hometown in the south of France.

"Most times we talk about food," Pautard said with a wry smile. "You know the French."

.Fast facts

Free discussion group at the library

What: Bonjour mes amis, meaning "Hello, my friends," is a discussion group for people who speak French. For native speakers, it's a place to meet and chat with peers who speak the same language. For learners, it's an opportunity to practice in an authentic setting. The group has no instructor.

When: 2 p.m. each Friday.

Where: New Port Richey Public Library, 5939 Main St., New Port Richey. (727) 853-1279.

Cost: Free.

From Cindy Crawford to Facebook friends, linguistics group converses in the language of love 08/11/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 11, 2011 12:51pm]
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