Illustration by Eric Hanson

“We want to help people seeking to improve their language skills,” says Morgane Thiery.


There’s no better way to learn a foreign language than immersing yourself in it. Macalester’s six languages houses make that possible. 

In April, diners gathered around a table full of quiche, choucroute, macaroons, and other foods typical of France’s northeastern Lorraine district. The delicious repast was just one in a series of monthly gatherings held at French House, the college-owned residence where students eager to learn the language spend a semester.

French House is one of a half dozen language houses owned and managed by the college. Clustered together along Vernon Street just behind Mac’s ball fields, these include Japan, Chinese, Russian, German, and Spanish Houses along with French House. Each is home to three to six students, most of whom spend a single semester living there, speaking only that house’s language.

But back to French House: The foods of Lorraine were featured, as those of Senegal had been earlier, because those are the native lands of lab instructors Morgane Thiery and Rokhaya Dieng, who live in the house along with four students. These monthly fetes—which also have included Mardi Gras parties and poetry nights—are not the residents’ only gatherings. They also dine together three times a week, often exploring French cuisine.

“It’s a very good way to improve your French,” says lab instructor Thiery, “but also a good way to recreate a sense of family. Plus you’re close to campus!”

Many residents, she says, choose to live in a language house for the semester before they study abroad, hoping to improve their conversational skills and better acquaint themselves with that country’s culture.

In Japan House, for example, residents have prepared onigiri (rice balls), learned origami, and played Japanese card games, says lab instructor Junko Fukuoka. They also learn the names of Japanese foods and cooking tools. “The vocabulary we use in Japan House while living together is more varied than that taught in classrooms,” says Fukuoka. “They need this extra vocabulary to live in Japan.”

Although students needn’t be language majors to live in one of the houses, they must be capable of joining in the conversation. On the other hand, truly excellent speakers shouldn’t apply: “Priority is given to those who aren’t fluent,” says Thiery. “We want to help people seeking to improve their language skills.”

Improvement, knowledge, and Quiche Lorraine, too. No wonder Macalester’s language houses are so popular.

June 3 2013

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