Teaching French

French is the official language of more than 20 countries and the second official language of other nations including Belgium, Canada and Switzerland. French and English are the most commonly taught languages in the world and also the only two that are spoken on five continents. One of the most important international French associations is the Alliance Francaise (AF). It is a not-for-profit organization established in 1883 and based in Paris. AF engages in teaching French as a second language both in France and abroad. Each year, about 450,000 people attend the classes in one of AF's centers across the globe. Apart from teaching French to students, the organization offers training programs for trainee teachers.

French has its own distinctive features. One of the most difficult aspects of learning this language is its pronunciation. French is notable for its nasal vowels and uvular r as well as three accents, namely the acute (´) over e, the grave (‘) over a and e, and the circumflex (^) over a, e, i, o, and u. In French, c is normally pronounced as k before the consonants a, o, u, or a and as s before e and i. However, when a cedilla is placed below it, the letter is pronounced as s in all cases. Similar to the English language, French uses 26 letters from the Latin, also called the Roman alphabet. Due to the many silent letters in French, its spelling should not be used as a guide to pronunciation.

Teaching a foreign language is a process that is always more easily carried out with infants and young children, since they are able to understand and pronounce specific sounds. This ability starts to slowly diminish as people mature. As French vowels do not diphthong but remain constant, it is harder for grown ups to pronounce an e sound unless they were introduced to this soft vowel at a young age. The same also refers to the gargle noise which is used to pronounce an r.

When preparing to teach a language in the classroom, in this case French educators should plan and implement a specific program involving different approaches in order to achieve the best possible results. It is essential that all learners along with the teacher speak in French as much as possible during studies and use their native language only when it is absolutely necessary. To persuade students to do this, the teacher has to enthuse, interest and motivate them and make them feel at ease. He or she needs to personalize the use of French so as to help learners improve their memory of the subject matter. For this purpose, the educator must get to know his or her students and then ask related questions. Thus, learners will boost their creativity and increase their vocabulary as they look for new ways to express what they want to say in French. In correcting mistakes, the teacher should use constructive methods to avoid damaging their self-esteem and enthusiasm to continue learning the language. The more students hear their teacher speak in French, they will learn how to express themselves. Another method of engage language students is to use French videos, poems, songs and movies to make the language authentic in the classroom. It is vital that the teacher has cultural experience from studying the language abroad and that they are able to share their experiences with the students.

Educators can use three approaches to teach French grammar. The first one is the traditional method, in which students learn grammar rules and then practice their use in communication. The second involves the whole language approach, which calls for students to read a text and try to comprehend it by identifying the main ideas and other details. This involves the teacher explaining the grammar aspects to the students and together they work on exercises to reinforce the newly acquired knowledge. The third approach is referred to as input processing, which concentrates on the input and comprehension processes rather than on the production processes associated with the traditional approach. There are also a number of methods used to teach vocabulary, ranging from reading lists of words and memorizing them, to completing exercises where the students fill in blank spaces in a workbook.

Teaching French: Selected full-text books and articles

French Lessons: A Memoir
Alice Kaplan.
University of Chicago Press, 1993
Handbook of College Teaching: Theory and Applications
Keith W. Prichard; R. McLaran Sawyer.
Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 19 "Teaching French in a Liberal-Arts Setting"
He Is the Sun, She Is the Moon: A Feminist Sociolinguistic Approach to Teaching the French Language
Moscovici, Claudia.
Women and Language, Vol. 20, No. 2, Fall 1997
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
A History of the French Language
Peter Rickard.
Routledge, 1993 (2nd edition)
How the French Boy Learns to Write: A Study in the Teaching of the Mother Tongue
Rollo Walter Brown.
Harvard University Press, 1927
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