An Interview with Kristin Espinasse, Creator of “French Word a Day”

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An Interview with Kristin Espinasse, Creator of “French Word a Day”
Kristin Espinasse grew up in the U.S., met and fell in love with her French husband in Aix-en-Provence, and since 1992 has made her life as a wife, mother, and writer in the South of France. She is the author of three books: the most recently published is First French Essais: Venturing into Writing, Marriage & France. In 2002 she created French Word a Day, a blog that celebrates French life and the French language, and that now has more than 40,000 subscribers, mostly in the U.S. and Canada but also in France, the U.K., Australia and beyond. She recently took the time to answer questions posed by BP writer Janet Hulstrand. Where in the U.S. did you grow up? Phoenix, Arizona. Where the delicate and lovely scent of the desert could be bottled by perfumers in Grasse! How and when did you first become interested in France? And how did you end up living there? I sometimes wonder if the 1970s Bain de Soleil commercial had anything to do with it, such an impressionable TV junkie was I as a kid. Then, after failing French in high school (by now I was glued to talk shows), I seized a second chance to learn it in college and was lucky to do an exchange program in Lille, after which I graduated! (bye-bye, T.V.!) Can you tell readers of BP what French Word a Day is, and also how you came up with the idea for it? French Word-A-Day is now a “thrice-weekly” journal written from a wobbly card table here in the corner of my bedroom. I can look out the window to a field of ancient olive trees, while typing up another story. In these vocabulary-rich nouvelles, I share our day-to-day life as a French-American family living on our second vineyard (this time, with olive trees and more honey bees!). The idea of a language blog came to me in 2002, while trying to share my writing online. As I posted story after story, I was disheartened to see that no one was reading. I needed a carrot to entice readers over to my stories… voilà French Word-A-Day was born. You have just released your third book–“First French Essais: Venturing into Writing, Marriage & France.”  Can you tell us a little bit about all three of your books? How did you come to write them, and what territory is explored in each of them? The books are selected stories from the blog, edited–and sometimes illustrated–with photos. They are, I sometimes fear, “du pareil au même“–or “more of the same”–as each book is a continuation of the story of our French life. Though the books are the same, each and every vignette is unique as our family and our experiences grow–and with it a reader’s French vocabulary, hopefully! What language do you speak with your children? Did you start teaching them English in your home before they had it in school? What do you see as the advantages of raising children bilingually? I sometimes speak Franglais to my children, I’m ashamed to say, but somewhere between beginning and ending my sentence in English, French sneaks in. When I’m feeling really badly about this, I stop to think about what a miracle it is that my children even speak English–given that no one in my village or family spoke to them in English when they were little! It is still amazing to me that a parent alone in a foreign country can transfer an unspoken language to her child. Certain old ladies in my village used to scold me for speaking English to my children: “They’ll have psychological problems! You should speak only French. You’ll confuse them!” Of course it is the opposite: having a command over two languages allows them a greater possibility to think creatively and to express themselves. What do you think is the most important thing for someone to keep in mind when trying to learn a new language? Do you have any helpful general tips about how to go about it? Keep in mind that language perfectionism is the death of communication! Don’t let pride or fear of ridicule keep you from practicing French! On the contrary, language gaffes are wonderful ice-breakers, leading to a more humane interaction. There aren’t too many writers I know of–in fact none I can think of–who spend part of their time sitting at a computer writing, and a fair amount of time also working in the vines, raising grapes for wine. Can you tell us a little bit about that part of your life? And does your life as a writer have any effect on your work in the vines? My husband is the vigneron, I only help when needed. But hopefully writers are farmers too, as we spend our time studying the fruit (or the sweet, and sometimes sour, life that goes on all around us). Then we harvest our impressions and press them onto paper. The trick is knowing how to prune, and which fruit to select! Living on a farm is wonderfully inspiring, though sometimes I wish I could forego the writing and just lie down in the vines…among the mustard flowers and the bees buzzing overhead… and observe forever. But there is something about recalling one’s experience, good or bad, and retelling it, that makes it rich, and sometimes beautiful. What do you love most about living in France? And what do you miss most about living in the U.S.? Everything from those dangling door beads to the not-so-cliché beret! I love that meals end with desserts, that friends eat at one another’s homes more often than at restaurants. I adore the sing-song of regional accents and the regional diversity (where else can you drive from the “desert” to the “tropics” within an hour?)…

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Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and teacher who divides her time between France and the U.S. She is the author of "Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You," and "A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France." She writes frequently about France for Bonjour Paris, France Today, and a variety of other publications, including her blog, Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. She has taught “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for education abroad programs of the City University of New York since 1997, and she teaches online classes for Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C. She is currently working on her next book in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in Champagne.


  • Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)
    2018-02-02 22:07:41
    Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)
    Bonjour, As happens when you are having a non-directed browse on the Internet, I stumbled upon this interview years after it was conducted. I love it.Having a cross-cultural life (Australia and France), I relate to the sentiments expressed about finding beauty in both countries, being aware of cliché traps and the wonder of raising bilingual children. Kristi writes well, with honesty and perception and I always enjoy thinking through her observations.