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French Spotlight

Jennifer Lancaster: Telling Stories Is Universal

Jennifer Lancaster“Stories interest me, and I wanted to read ‘Notre-Dame de Paris,’ ‘A la recherche du temps perdu,’ and even ‘Le petit prince’ in their original forms.”

You see, there’s a little girl named Sophie. And she loves to play the piano. And the piano loves her. Watch the video.

From that simple premise, Jennifer Lancaster ’13 developed a tantalizing video to synthesize what she had learned during her Transylvania French classes. It was a final project for a May term course, one part academic exercise and one (very big) part creative catharsis.

Lancaster is a natural story-teller, and it seemed appropriate for her to use that affinity to relay her new language skills to her professor. It was, after all, her desire to read stories in their original language that led her to study French in the first place. As Lancaster explains, “Through stories I have acquired a new language I will speak, write, and pass on for the rest of my life.”

To create the animated video, Lancaster started with a story she had written as part of a writers’ group that met at the Woodford County Public Library. She translated that into French and then began thinking about how to bring the story to life—in the three days she had available. With rudimentary tools, she drew all of the images on 300 separate sheets of paper and hand-painted over 70 fish. She then scanned the images and copied them into iMovie, standard software available on Apple computers. Finally, she recorded herself playing a composition of her own on the piano and telling the story. Setting each frame at 0.1 seconds, Lancaster made the still images dance on the page.

Lancaster had another opportunity to work with French professor Brian Arganbright, who had approved the animation project, when she was a student in his French Society and Culture class. “I learned French history,” said Lancaster, “and, over one term, retold the story of France (and of the Francophone world) to my professor, sometimes in the classroom, sometimes on walks across campus and downtown Lexington, and sometimes through art projects.” Her final exam was a comic book-style children’s book that introduced “the art movements, politics, and philosophy that laid the foundations for modern-day France.”

Lancaster readily finds opportunities to practice her French. While studying abroad in New Zealand, she bought crêpes from a French family at the farmer's market and wrote French slam poetry with a friend. She studied with a professor who “enjoyed bizarre and rare words and spoke French with a Kiwi accent.” 

“The world is smaller than we think,” she said.

Lancaster is now comfortable telling stories—and reading stories—in both English and French. With those elementary tools, she can pursue a lifelong education. “The human condition—philosophy, psychology, sociology, women’s studies—can be studied through literature. I can now do this in two languages.”

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