7 TIPS FOR LEARNING FRENCH
For parents of students studying French, language learning is a bit of a mystery. How are you meant to help your child if you haven’t studied French in years or maybe you never studied the language. As a student, you are at one of two stages at the moment; you are beginning secondary school in September and will be taking French as a subject, or you have been doing it for a couple of years. While it sounds lovely to say that you are studying French, parents and students need to realise that for language teachers, the summer often means 3 months without engagement with the language at any level. This is always a recipe for disaster in September, as we try and get on with the course, but quickly realise that our students have forgotten everything! Not every child will have spent any time in France or any French-speaking country, so how can they be expected to remember words that they have not used in 3 months!
Learning a language involves the development of both receptive and productive skills. To put it simply, students should be able to read French and listen to French speakers. (Receptive bit!) They must also be able to speak and write French (Productive bit!)
Bearing this in mind, I have a couple of tips that you can try at home. I really would urge that either Mum or Dad take an active role in this, as a child learns best from modelling their parents’ behaviour, and if you participate in their learning, the child will see the value of language learning. I don’t expect any of you to go and start learning the intricacies of French grammar. Let that be the job of the teacher. What you can do is go over simple vocabulary.
- KEEP A FRENCH COPY
Buy a hard-back copy for your student and explain that this is where they will be doing their home French. Put any new vocabulary or phrases into this. With Junior level students, (1st,2nd & 3rd) I find that putting an image with the word reinforces learning. If you try this with a 5th or 6th year student, they may look at you bizarrely! For senior level students, I suggest that they write words that fit into a certain theme eg: holidays, school, health etc..
Most students are surgically attached to technology of some sort. There is no point in worrying about this, as the internet can be a very rich source of content for French. However, I suggest that regardless of the age of the student, content must be appropriate and above all accurate. There are a lot of sites claiming to “teach” French but only a qualified teacher has the requisite skills to actually teach. If your student loves watching a particular show, find its French equivalent and take 5-10 minutes a day to watch it. Watching clips in French will help students as long as the channel is reputable. (I will look at a few and post them over the coming days).
- DAY TRIPS
If you are planning a visit to a place of historical or cultural interest, be sure to ask for the brochure in both English and French. I will be bringing my children to Bunratty Castle and it will be a great opportunity to learn words about tourism. A trip to the beach would give them the opportunity to learn a lot of vocabulary also. I don’t expect parents to pull out their copy on the beach, but to mentally note what they see and then maybe look up the words, and add to the copy a day or two later.
- LABEL OBJECTS AROUND THE HOUSE
Every year, the exams feature basic as well as more complicated vocabulary. A lot of what you see every day will be on the exam, so why not label certain things like the following:
Le frigo – The fridge
Le four – The oven
La porte – the door
La fourchette – the fork
Le lit – the bed
- KEEP IT BRIEF
Most students are quite happy to put a little bit of extra effort into something, if they see the value in it. However, the home lessons that you conduct should be brief and as much fun as possible. If watching 5 minutes of YouTube and jotting down maybe ten words constitutes a lesson, students will be delighted, as it makes French more engaging. Don’t worry if your student is not conjugating verbs and writing short stories. That again is the job of the teacher. Opening a child’s mind is primarily the job of the parent. Teachers have a very important role to play in the development of children, but without the enthusiasm and support of the parents, it is often made so much harder.
- MAKE IT PERSONAL
Every student has his or her own journey in life. When learning French, make sure to pick examples that are real for the student. If for example, you are looking at colours, students should pick their favourite one, and list it at the top! Obviously at senior level, students will engage at a different level, while still making the experience personal.
- USE IT OR LOSE IT
I know people that worked with me in Disneyland Paris for a couple of years, and then came back and just stopped using it. Now they would be hard-pressed to hold a conversation, where before they would have been fluent. Why does this happen? It happens because they have stopped using the language. You must be constantly revising words in order for them to stick.