Nancy Holden-Avard

  • Senior Lecturer Emeritus in French

Nancy Holden-Avard has numerous professional interests which include second language acquisition, learning styles, technology-enhanced learning, error analysis, writing, transcultural competence, and stylistics and translation. Having produced two modest computer programs designed to empower students grappling with sticky grammar points, Holden-Avard was instrumental in setting up and overseeing Mount Holyoke's first computer language lab in the fall of 1984. Over the years, Holden-Avard has continued contributing to computer software development, including evaluative work for DC Heath and creative work for Houghton Mifflin. At present, she is developing and researching the effectiveness of a digital dictation program with error-sensitive audio and written feedback to help students perceive and develop strong sound-spelling connections in French. 

Holden-Avard’s book Le Français sans peur, published in 1991, offers a creative approach to teaching language. Its notional-functional organization focuses on facilitating effective communication in everyday situations, and its readings provide a broad range of levels, lengths and origins—encompassing several French-speaking countries—to help students formulate cross-cultural comparisons. An impassioned enthusiast of French Impressionist painters, Holden-Avard translated August Renoir’s previously unpublished “Grammar of Art” manuscript for art historian Robert Herbert in 1998. The translation was used in Herbert's book, Nature’s Workshop:  Renoir’s Writing on the Decorative Arts. More recently, in collaboration with Professors Pierre Capretz of Yale University and Barry Lydate of Wellesley College, Holden-Avard contributed to the third edition of both the textbook and the workbook for the highly regarded video-based immersion method, French in Action. She also continues to expand a guide to effective writing for her students; it includes exercises in thought linkage and audience sensitivity plus an extensive coded correction system, complete with explanations and examples in French.

Coordinator of the Foreign Language Writing Assistance Program for many years, Holden–Avard is committed to developing in her students a love of language, nuance, and carefully crafted writing. She currently specializes in teaching elementary-level students, using innovative techniques to help them develop a strong base in the language and culture, and—time permitting—familiarity with selective music, art and literature. Many of her students go on to study abroad and become French majors. Holden-Avard’s students consistently speak highly of her caring and friendly nature as well as her creative approach to teaching and dedication to their learning. 

Holden-Avard has served the Western Mass/Vermont AATF chapter as president and vice president. She has been honored with an award of excellence by the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association for her ongoing devotion to her profession. In 2015 the French government publicly recognized her dedication to spreading the French language and culture in the United States by presenting her with a medal and dubbing her a knight in the Order of Academic Palms (“Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques”)—an Order instituted in 1808 by the French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte. Most recently, Holden-Avard was active in helping to establish language floors as one of Mount Holyoke’s Living Learning Communities, giving students the opportunity to bond through their common love of languages and cultures and to deepen their understanding and appreciation of them through a wide variety of activities and events.

Areas of Expertise

Pedagogy; foreign language acquisition; curriculum development; use of technology in language teaching/learning


  • Ph.D., M.A., University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • A.B., Smith College