Sunday, August 26, 2007

Teaching French in the Treehouse

French is one of those subjects where I have needed as many teachers' helpers as I could get. We haven't bought a whole lot of commercial curriculum, though; most of what's out there, I can't afford.

I took French through high school and into university, and even won a dictionary once in a competition. My grammar isn't bad, although it could use a good review; my accent isn't bad (I think I pronounce French better than a few politicians I've heard); but I'll be the first to admit I am nowhere near bilingual. I can browse through Lettres de mon moulin without looking up too many words (hey, I even figured out what a chèvre was just by thinking about cheese), but French commercials throw me completely.

Still, somehow The Apprentice managed--either under her own power or because of her marvellous French tutor, moi--not only to succeed in first-year high school French but to elicit a question from her teacher as to whether she'd been enrolled in French Immersion. (Choke, sputter.) So I guess whatever we did wasn't that bad.

Um--what did we do?

Well, starting from the end...she had been doing an older version of Powerglide, mostly on her own...we had gone through one beginning grammar textbook, although I was doubtful about whether she'd retained much...she had read some Snoopy cartoons and some of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in French...she memorized one of the Fables de la Fontaine...we had sung quite a few folk songs and church choruses, read quite a few French easy-reader books (I sometimes made up my own Ruth Beechick-style lessons to go with those)...we had gone through some of the old grade one Aux Yeux curriculum I have (which I'm still going to post about later, since Crayons will be using it this year)...used several little tape sets from the public some of an online story about Christians in Romania...made a poster showing Arthur the aardvark and his different feelings (Arthur says J'ai mal (I feel sick), J'ai faim (I'm hungry) and so on)...used a couple of Usborne-type illustrated French/English word books...used an old workbook about learning French with a kangaroo...did some copywork...used some online fun French sites that aren't around anymore. Occasionally even watched T.V. Oh, and one year when she was six she did "J'étudie avec Mimi" with a group, although I don't think she learned a whole lot from that.

Mainly, I think, we just kept working at it...never too heavy on the grammar, she picked more of that up this year at school.

This past year with Ponytails, I mostly used one of two storybooks we have that were written in English and translated into French--100 contes familiers des bonnes soirées, and 100 contes familiers des jours heureux. Bedtime stories and happy-day stories. OK, they don't sound too challenging, but that's the whole idea: they're just one-or-two-page stories about this and that: birds who try to paint their feathers different colours, children who go to the zoo and get their lollipops eaten by a hungry elephant, a stuffed dog that gets lost, and so on. Not great literature, but great for vocabulary and hearing how sentences get put together. We're going to continue with the other book this year. What do we do with them? Sometimes I pre-teach a bit of vocabulary, especially if it's really important to the story. Then I read; sometimes I use toys or pictures to help show what's going on. I try not to translate into English if I can help it; I want her to understand the word in French, not just translate it.

I usually have Ponytails narrate, but not always in French. Usually I ask her to tell what happened in English but encourage her to use any French words she can remember.

Sometimes I'll make up a phonics lesson to go with the story; for example, if there are several words in the story that have the vowel sound used in "le" and "de," I'll list them and we'll practice reading them; then when I read the story again I'll point out those words or have her read them too. Sometimes, if we extend the story over a few days, I'll make up a worksheet--usually it's a page divided into about six empty boxes, each box with a word or phrase at the top, and she illustrates each box. I might also just give her the empty boxes and have her copy the words in herself before she draws the picture.

Sometimes I copy out some of the story, cut up the sentences, and we make new sentences.

Or I might ask her questions, have her point to things in the room or in an illustration. Where me...touch something that is....

And we sing too. This year I'm figuring on one folk song and one Christian song per month. If we can find tapes or CDs to go with the songs, I like to use those because sometimes (even for me) the phrasing on a song is a little tricky, and we might as well learn to sing them "right." Even though, just as in English, there are many different versions of some songs--so the CD might not always match up with our book. But we've usually worked it out.

Oh--and the other thing I have to look into is the free-with-library-card version of Rosetta Stone. We have an old demo CD of Rosetta Stone, so I know how it works, but I would like to see how well the free version works. In my mind that would be a great program to alternate with the Mom-lessons.

I have the stories and songs figured out through March--not exactly what we're going to do with each one, but the general idea. After March I'm not sure, because early in April we have a local conference here and I might look at investing in a commercial program that I can use with both Crayons and Ponytails, starting in the spring. I like the sound of the one that Coffeemamma has been using. But until then we're going to do our "chez nous" version.


Sebastian said...

This was nice. Sometimes it's hard for me to describe what we do for language because while we do a lot, it isn't really a set curriculum (aside from Rosetta Stone). Actually, German Donald Duck comic books figure prominently in our language instruction.

Anonymous said...

Awesome! We love French at our house, too! I posted here about some of the ways we've been learning French. I'll have to keep my eye out for your French posts!

Lydia Netzer said...

Brilliant -- I love this collection of different approaches. I think you will like Rosetta Stone. We use it for Spanish, and it's fun, like a computer game. I think it's fantastic that Apprentice is doing so well with the background you've given her -- you did a great job.