French lessons at the library? Oui!

Oak Bluffs library programming coordinator Carolina Cooney, who said she doesn't speak French, led the class using the Mango Language program, which is free to all library card holders. —Gabrielle Mannino

So, six of us this past Friday afternoon at the Oak Bluffs library were sitting around the table, set with French brie, crackers, and grapes, trying to wrap our vocal cords around the correct inflections for different greetings in French under the tutelage of the Mango Languages software app. Carolina Cooney, the library’s programming coordinator, both facilitated and participated in the app-led class, using her laptop projected onto a screen for us all to see and follow along.

The class came about from Carolina’s desire to learn French because she’s starting to travel more in Europe and Africa, especially Morocco, where French is one of the main languages. Having been there four times in the past two years, she is involved in the nonprofit Morocco Library Project, as well as expanding the Little Free Library program into Africa, and also sources products for her online store, Silver Sahara. Carolina explained further, “I wanted to learn the language, and figured since I couldn’t find an introductory French class here on the Island, I’ll just do it myself.”

The rest of us came for various reasons. Cressida Wu said, “I went to see a couple of French films at the Edgartown library, and thought perhaps I could learn a bit. Without the subtitles I wouldn’t have been able to understand it.” Sitting next to Cressida, Mark Franzblau added, “For me it’s pretty much the same reason as her, and we want to go to France for a while.”

“My parents were both French, and we spoke French as children, but I lost all my French and I want to retrieve it,” Muriel O’Rourke shared. For Dena Porter it’s a refresher. “I know basic French, and I listen to it on television and read it, but I don’t speak it most times. So it would be nice to refresh my memory and have a little more confidence in speaking.” I also wanted a refresher and help with my pronunciation.

In traditional academic classes, you learn nouns, verbs, and their conjugations in a progressively complex manner, and slowly learn how to construct sentences. Mango’s approach is to jump right into practical conversations right off the bat. For instance, for our first of 10 classes, we learned whole sentences and simple responses without breaking down the grammar. The focus was grasping the meaning and pronunciations of easy phrases. Not only do you hear a male and female voice giving the instructions and responses, but the app also provides the phonetic spelling as well as the ability to play the answer repeatedly through a click of a button, so you can try to match your accent with the native-speaker audio.

Another interesting aspect of Mango is that it points out the difference between what the words in a sentence literally translate into English versus their meaning in French. For instance, if you wanted to say in a casual setting, “Oh, good morning. How are you?” in French it would be “Tiens, bonjour. Ça va?” which literally translates into “Hold, good morning. How do you go?” Kind of fun to know, and it helps remember how to say it in French.

The pleasant male and female voices also pointed out that you would use different greeting phrases in a more formal situation, say in a shop or restaurant, or speaking to someone you didn’t know well or to whom you wanted to show respect. Here, “How are you?” instead of “Ça va?” would be “Comment allez-vous?” We immediately learned the phrase’s words and pronunciation rather than having to learn about the specifics of the formal versus informal, and how you set up a question in one situation compared with another.

After working together for about 45 minutes, we all downloaded the Mango Languages app through the Oak Bluffs system, which anyone can do with an Oak Bluffs library card.

Before leaving, I asked everyone what they thought of this type of class, where we all are doing it together while nibbling on French-inflected snacks. Carolina, who had been navigating the app, said, “The Mango Languages application was fairly easy to use in a class setting, and I think it will be especially beneficial to download the app onto our own personal smart devices and practice between classes. And I’m excited to have this enthusiastic crowd for the first class.”

Cressida admitted she’s a beginner, and said that she felt more relaxed in the library class because it felt less competitive. “It’s an enjoyment, not like a task,” she said.

“It’s different. I’m so used to sitting in a cubicle with headphones with that singular experience between you and the computer. This is more interactive, and it feels more like an immersion class,” Dena said.

And that it is, and most enjoyable too. It’s not too late: Come join us Fridays from 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm at Oak Bluffs library’s upstairs conference room.

For more information, contact Carolina Cooney at or 508-693-9433. Mango Languages is an online app available in 70 different languages that you can download for free through the Oak Bluffs library system with an Oak Bluffs library card. The library will be happy to provide assistance.