Service Members learn to Parlez Francais in Garoua, Cameroon
By Staff Sgt. Christina Turnipseed
GAROUA, Cameroon – Two soldiers and an airman started a French class here to make it easier for service members and locals to communicate.
Service members here are serving in a support role for the Cameroon military’s fight against the violent extremist organization Boko Haram.
The ongoing classes were originally started by Senior Airman Melissa Sharpe an airman serving here in the finance office.
“I started the French classes because of the locals,” said Sharpe.
“We interact with them every day and they would always try to speak to us in their language,” she said. “Since we’re a guest in their country, I wanted to be able to speak with them or be able to let them know that we’re trying to get to know them better too.”
Sharpe then recruited Sgt. Nathan Pelletti, of the 40th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 11th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, and Spc. Oumar Coulibaly of 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, who both speak fluent French.
“I was born in Paris and I was raised there for ten years,” said Pelletti.
“As a result of simply going to school I learned French as a first language. Then later on when I moved to the U.S., that’s actually when I learned English,” Pelletti said.
Coulibaly, in contrast, learned French from his mother.
“When I was young, my mother who is from Mali, would speak to me in French,” said Coulibaly.
Coulibaly and Pelletti chose to teach students French phrases that would allow them to complete everyday exchanges with more ease.
“We try and focus on practicality because it wouldn’t actually be reasonable to teach someone the whole language of French in a couple of weeks,’ said Pelletti.
“So we teach them common phrases, market interactions, how to ask for directions,” Pelletti said, “something that can be used when they go out as opposed to teaching them the entire language.”
Sharpe, who is also a student in the class, says she now finds communicating with the locals to be simpler.
“It’s all basic but I can kind of talk to them a lot easier. They really appreciate when we do that,” said Sharpe.