Monday, September 03, 2007

Grade One French

(For a more general look at what we do for French, see Teaching French in the Treehouse.)

I promised to describe our Grade One French text, so here it is: "Le fran├žais partout: AUX YEUX DES PETITS, Teacher's Text (Revised Edition)," by Marthe G. Laurin, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada Ltd., distributed in the U.S. by Winston Press (Minneapolis), copyright 1971, 1972. I can tell by the price inside the cover that I must have picked this up at the downtown thrift shop, probably about eight years ago. I used parts of it with the Apprentice when she was in about the fourth grade; I went through the whole thing with Ponytails when she was in grade one; and I'm planning on using a large part of it with Crayons this coming year.

This book came out of the heyday of Trudeau-era bilingual fervour in the early 1970's.
"'[Sophie] may even teach your children some French,' Mrs. Thurstone put in slyly. 'Isn't that the latest thing for parents to want in this bilingual country? Ha!'

"Emily could not decide what the 'Ha!' meant, but she did know the old lady was right. She had heard her parents talk of how little French they knew, how much they hoped Emily would learn to speak it fluently. It was an important part of being a Canadian, her father had said."--Jean Little, Look Through My Window, 1970
Well, for once the textbook makers seem to have gotten it right, because this course, aimed at kindergarten or grade one children, is fun and very sensible. The daily lessons are short and all scripted out--fifteen minutes or less, including time for greetings, a short script using a felt board and/or real objects, and a song or a short game.

Inevitably, the teacher's book itself was supposed to be packaged with a whole lot of other stuff that I've never seen (the items are pictured inside the book): felt board cutouts and backgrounds, posters, and cassette tapes. (There are no illustrations in the book; it's strictly for the teacher to follow.) We've always improvised our own cutouts to go along with the story, which follows a family with three children through the seasons. A lot of the vocabulary is repeated through the year in different contexts: for instance, you teach a few colours early on with real objects, and later name the colours of the balls on a Christmas tree. The children are encouraged to answer simple questions or to point to objects, but aren't expected to repeat everything back.

The seasonal emphasis works well as long as you can work through the program from September to June; otherwise it would be awkward since you'd be doing Halloween lessons (parts of a pumpkin face) in February or whatever. Some of the lessons are very Canadian (and I can sympathize with Denise in this story):

"Il fait froid. (It's cold.)
C'est l'hiver. (It's winter.)
Antoine et Alain jouent au hockey. (Antoine and Alain are playing hockey.)
Denise regarde Antoine et Alain. (Denise watches Antoine and Alain.)
Denise a froid. (Denise is cold.)
Elle a froid aux mains. (Her hands are cold.)
Elle a froid aux pieds. (Her feet are cold.)
Elle a froid aux oreilles. (Her ears are cold.)
Elle a froid au nez. (Her nose is cold.)
Denise entre dans la maison. (Denise goes in the house.)"--Chapter 5, Week 4, Day 3 (translations mine)

The fact that this particular book is almost impossible to find shouldn't deter anyone from making up similar lessons; we've made up a few of our own as well. We had a lesson once with bananas that went something like "Crayons, give Ponytails the banana. Ponytails has the banana. Apprentice takes the banana from Ponytails. Apprentice, give the banana to Mom" and so on.
"She tried asking Sophie to teach her some French. But Sophie did not want to speak French. She insisted Emily give her lessons in English instead. [Three-year-old] Ann was the only one who was learning any French, much to the disappointment of the adults....As the days passed, she learned to say in perfect French 'I am so slow!' 'I have the head of a cabbage!' and 'How stupid I am!'...."--Look Through My Window
The back part of the book contains several "comptines" (little chants) and folk songs, mostly short ones like this:

"Tourne, tourne, mon moulin; Tap'! Tap'! Tap'! les petites mains."

The actions for this and other songs are given in the lessons--this one is about a mill turning around, so you act that out and then clap your hands. From our own experience, these are a lot of fun and a good way to practice "sounding French" even if all the words aren't understood.

My only wish is that I could find followup books in the same series--if they exist-- and that they'd be as good! Apparently there is a 1967 book called "Le fran├žais partout 1," but I haven't seen it--there's a copy out in B.C. though, so maybe I'll send for it to see what it's like.

So anyway, that's how we get started with French.

[Embarrassing-Oversight Update: I neglected to mention that this book would be less than useful if you can't pronounce French or decipher the phrases used in the lessons. There are no translations given--you're on your own, especially since you don't have the benefit of the long-vanished cassette tapes.]


Sebastian said...

What a great review. I love write ups like this that not only give a sense of the book but also how you are using it.

Mama Squirrel said...

Thanks for stopping by, Sebastian!