French is the only language taught in nearly every country around the globe and remains the second most taught world language in the United States. While some might think that French is a dying language confined only to France, the statistics show otherwise: It is the official or most frequently spoken language in 32 countries. From Canada to Northern Europe, from the Middle East to North Africa, there are lots of people speaking French, with plenty of children and adults learning the language, many of them right here in Chicago.
The Alliance Française de Chicago, dedicated to the study of the French language and education of its cultures, is the second largest among the 115 Alliances in the United States. The organization, which is non-governmental from both sides of the pond, works closely with all French-speaking delegations and consulates in Chicago. Their powerful Woman’s Board will host its Biennial Gala “Le Bal Magique du Maroc” on May 12, which is, by tradition, an extremely elegant affair designed to help sustain the Alliance Française and its important mission.
The Four Seasons Hotel’s Grand Ballroom will be transformed into a Moroccan-inspired evening, where guests will be whisked away to the souks of Marrakech and enjoy a playful recreation of Yves St. Laurent’s Majorelle Garden. Fountains will flow, scented with delights provided by the French Chevalier des Arts perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. The theme of the evening will continue with the haute cuisine, prepared by Chef Kevin Hickey. Attendees will dance to the Stu Hirsh Orchestra throughout the night, dotted with a premier French-themed silent and live auction and paddle-raise by preeminent Chicago auctioneer Leslie Hindman. The evening also plans to see more than 500 of Chicago’s cultural leaders, as well as French Ambassador to the United States Monsieur François Delattre and Consul General of France in Chicago Monsieur Graham Paul.
“The people of Chicago share a deep-rooted love and respect of the French language and, in particular, its cultural manifestations of style, fashion, design, gastronomy, literature, theatre, music and art, not to mention technology and science,” explains Margaret Unetich, co-chair of the gala along with Suzette Bulley. She goes on to explain that embracing the French language often forges other passions. “Opening one’s mind to another language brings, automatically, an opening to its culture and the expanded worldview that comes with it.”
Expanding a worldview one student at a time is the quest for the Alliance Française. The gala will help maintain the 115-year-old organization’s French language classes, actively circulated library of 14,000-plus volumes, and their outreach program. The Awards Towards Excellence program, an after-school immersion with six area high schools, will be a gala beneficiary. “We host over 2,000 middle and high school students from the Chicago region and several other states each year for immersion field trips called Discovery Days,” explains Bulley. “These students gain a stronger awareness of French culture and enhanced French language skills.”
By going beyond the classroom experience, the impact of the field trips speak for themselves: Of the 37,000 Chicago Public School students studying a foreign language, 11,000 are enrolled in French courses, up from 7,000 in 2003. To the globally-minded institution Alliance Française, Chicago can only say, “Merci.”
Tickets for the Woman’s Board Biennial Gala on May 12 are $600, or $5,000 for a table of 10. To reserve tickets, visit af-chicago.org, or call Tom Driscoll, 2012 Gala Coordinator, at 312-337-1070, ext. 113.
—By Stacy Flannery