FAIRFIELD — French and music have long been central for high school junior Sarah Grinalds, who has played guitar for a decade and whose mother has always spoken French around the house.

Both hold significance for her family — her parents met in a college French class and went dancing on their first date. “We’ve always thought of that as how they met,” Grinalds said of music and French. The Fairfield Ludlowe High School student is now combining both for a six-week class she is teaching at the Bigelow Center for Senior Activities, titled “Beginning French Set to Music.”

The course, running April 13 to May 18, is part of Grinalds’ independent study on language cognitive maintenance. In addition to teaching seniors each week, she will survey the attendees as they learn.

She was inspired to teach at the senior center from past visits to see her grandmother at a local nursing home. Grinalds would bring her guitar and play jazz songs for her grandmother and other residents, who heard her playing and requested a song.

“They reacted so well to it, and people would come up to me afterward and talk about where they first heard the song or how much they liked listening to it when they were younger,” she said. “It had a profound effect on me, and I never forgot it.”

More Information

Sarah Grinalds’ six-week Bigelow Center for Senior Activities course “Beginning French Set to Music” will be held Thursday evenings from 4:30-5:30 p.m. April 13 to May 18. Seniors can call 203-256-3166 to reserve a spot.

Grinalds, who has taken four years of French classes at school and improved from speaking at home and frequent family trips to France, plans to teach basics focused on conversational French — greetings, goodbyes, subject pronouns, basic verbs, pleasantries, numbers, time, the alphabet and situational vocabulary, like restaurant ordering.

“I want it to be a really practical use of French because I think that’s how you learn a language to begin with,” she said, adding of the six classes, “It’s supposed to be really relaxed.”

Held Thursday evenings, seniors can come to any number of the free classes and will not need previously skills for any of the sessions, intended to be a relaxing approach to learning.

For her musical twist on a classic introduction to foreign language, Grinalds will start each class with a French song. Her first class will open with “La Vie en Rose,” a 1940s French classic first crooned by Edith Piaf, which she chose for its familiar melody. Grinalds will have seniors sing along, go through an English version line by line and later fill in the blank with the proper word as they listen to the French recording.

Associating French with a melody, she said, will help the knowledge stick. The musical hook aims to boost memory and cognition, while also offering a fun, relaxed learning environment.

“There’s this idea of singing the songs together. There’s a sense they’ll be able to have a little bit of camaraderie, building relationships,” Grinalds said. “I think the music not only provides a positive atmosphere, but I think it gives the seniors a sense of confidence because music, it’s pretty easy to catch on to a melody…There’s this hope their confidence would be boosted because of it.”

Grinalds’ personal passion for language extends beyond French as well. Ludlowe’s Arabic Cultural Club president, the Fairfield native began learning the language on her own and from classmates. Now she learns Arabic from a local resettled refugee and former Syrian professor, who she met doing outreach with Syrian refugee families in Fairfield through the club.

“She struggles so much in this country,” Grinalds said of the woman, who she said is laboring to learn English from scratch, “but she is so remarkably American in that she refuses to give up. She is putting in all of this effort for the goal of making a better life for her children. It inspires you definitely in the way you live your life.”

Grinalds is also president of Ludlowe’s Students Against Exploitation Club and a swimmer. Training is a big part of her life, she said during a phone call in a break from competing at nationals. The freestyle swimmer narrowly missed the qualifying time for Olympic trails last year and has her sights set on a future Olympic run.

lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16