- Associated Press - Sunday, June 15, 2014

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - Corey Porche spent years dancing to Cajun music and zydeco without really listening to the words. But after playing his guitar at jam sessions and receiving a CD of the Balfa Brothers, Porche felt a strange gnawing inside.

Porche had to learn more about the vaguely familiar, French language that made him want to dance and play music.

“I started remembering my grandpa speaking those words to his neighbor, Miss Domingue,” said Porche, 38. “I had this moment where I realized I’m supposed to be speaking this language. I’d go ask my grandpa questions and he’d get aggravated. He wasn’t too into me trying to dissect what he spoke.

“So Caroline Helm told me there’s a place you can go and learn the language in five weeks. I told her that was crazy. Then she told me there was like three girls to every guy, so I was like ‘Alright!’”

Porche not only attended the Université Sainte Anne in Pointe-de-l’Église, Nova Scotia, he now serves as the “agent en Louisiane” for the school’s spring and summer French immersion programs. Considered one of world’s best, the St. Anne program allows students of all ages to live life in French for five weeks.

Students are housed on campus and must speak French at all times. Students who violate this rule receive a warning. After three warnings, the student is sent home.

Students literally live in another language with 70 percent of the learning done outside the classroom. Sports, games, workshops, theater, theme nights, whale-watching expeditions and other excursions are just a few of the activities that keep students busy learning and conversing from sunrise to bed time.

Some, who arrive knowing not one word of French, graduate as fluent speakers.

Grammy-winning Cajun musician Steve Riley attended St. Anne a decade ago. Riley said the program completely changed his use and understanding of the language of his ancestors.

“Before I went, my French was all right,” said Riley. “I could get by - barely.

“But over there, you’re not allowed to speak English. After a week or so, you start thinking in French, dreaming in French. That’s why they call it immersion. You are immersed.

“It took me to another level in understanding and speaking. I wish I could go again.”

Riley is among the dozens of Lafayette-area musicians and students who have studied at St. Anne. Porche first attended in 1999, the same year that local musicians Kristi Guillory, Matthew Doucet, Joshua Caffery happened to go.

They all connected through daily jam sessions, their Louisiana roots and newfound proficiency in French.

“When I got there, it just gave me this push,” said Guillory, who plays with Bonsoir Catin. “Within five weeks, everything clicked. It really gave me the confidence that I could live and function completely in French from that point forward.

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