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DS (Yr 5) really struggling with French

(36 Posts)
Azure Mon 13-Sep-10 09:58:44

My DS has had French lessons at school since Yr 1 and is now in Yr 5 (at a different school). His homework last weekend was to learn 3 very basic questions and answers verbally (What is your name? How old are you? and How are you?, but in French of course) and he simply couldn't do it. I would tell him the phrase then immediately ask him what it was and he said he couldn't remember. I repeated and the same thing happened, and then he got really cross. It seems to be a massive block - he can remember plenty of other things and is not struggling in other subjects. He is borderline dyslexic, which probably doesn't help, but he's only learning French verbally - heaven help us when he has to write it as well. I'm at a loss about what to do. Does anyone have any ideas on how to get through to him? Any suggestions or thoughts appreciated.

coppertop Mon 13-Sep-10 10:14:51

I have similar issues with my 10yr-old.

I think the problem is that they are being taught set phrases rather than learning the 'building blocks' of a language. To them it sounds like one long garbled collection of sounds rather than actual words put together in a sentence. So rather than hearing "Je m'appelle" as three words which mean "I call myself" they hear it as "jumapell" which means nothing to them and is hard to remember.

I'm not entirely sure what the solution is. With my ds1 I plan to try showing him how the phrases are broken down so that he can build them back up himself. Ds1 isn't dyslexic but has had language difficulties in the past and had similar issues with learning English - despite it being his first and only language. (He has autism).

Azure Mon 13-Sep-10 11:08:15

That's a good point about not learning the "building blocks" but just some meaningless sounds. I've not focused on the written words with him, but breaking down the phrases might help - thanks. He really is so switched off with this subject - he's also started Latin at school and I really don't want it to go down the same way.

ConstantlyCooking Tue 14-Sep-10 09:59:59

Also they often learn set phrases and can not understand alternatives so can not respond. My DCs understood "comment tu t'appelles?" but not "omment t'appelles tu?" for example. Often early French is like this and it is only once they start writing that they can see patterns.
FWIW Latin is often easier in some ways because it is usually taught in a more systematic way. Also for latin they can pronounce words as they are written so it is easier to spell.

AuntGertrude Tue 14-Sep-10 11:29:12

I agree. Picking the language apart, very simply, enables someone to put the required elements together. I have done a lot of French work at home with an older primary age child and learning "je, tu, il/elle/on, nous, vous, ils/elles" actually helps them understand a huge amount on its own, let alone with an agreeing verb tagged on the end.

The style for French teaching at present is to teach set phrases and stock answers, not to teach its grammatical construction. Even at GCSE students are not necessarily taught things like "verbs that take 'etre'". Children are hamstrung if they don't know the basics, not just verbal but written French.

claig Tue 14-Sep-10 16:10:32

I think he needs to see it spelt out "je m'appelle" at the same time that he says it. That way he makes the connection between what how it sounds and what he is actually saying. I believe in sight going hand in hand with sound and helping to retain both in memory

penguin73 Tue 14-Sep-10 19:30:27

flash cards with the right spelling on and how it sounds in a different colour, maybe a little picture so he can make the association. Use them with him but don't push it too much (10 mins at a time only) but also have them around where he will see them. Also google some of the teaching sites such as and look for language games online that might help. Also try videos on youtube.

choufleur Tue 14-Sep-10 19:36:58

I speak a bit of French to DS (4). I will tell him phases but them break them down so that he understands the individual words. So for example he knows "comment tu va?" but knows as well what each word means. So when I say "On y va" he can recognise "go" in each sentence.

We're are awful at teaching languages in this country - including our own. If you don't understand nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns etc in English it's a huge ask to understand another language.

French kids conjugate verbs by rote. Not very interesting I bet but they do then know what the words mean.

Tippychoocks Tue 14-Sep-10 19:38:57

Could something like Muzzy help if he is more of a visual learner? Or is that frowned on now? I loved it smile

Tinuviel Tue 14-Sep-10 20:08:22

We all have different learning styles and some of us need to see a word/phrase written down for it to go in.

I'm a languages teacher now but vividly remember 20+ years ago as an au-pair in Austria having to go into a butchers and ask for mince without actually using the word mince because I had forgotten it (never having seen it!) I still need to see a word to really remember it.
And the old point and smile didn't work: they didn't have mince on display. You had to ask for it and they minced it for you.

An alternative is to make it into a song or a chant - it's usually more memorable like that.

londonartemis Tue 14-Sep-10 20:32:26

Azure - I could have said the same about my DS last year. Now he has started secondary school, he has dropped French - for all its complications, he had simply mastered nothing of it in Primary School - and he has taken up Spanish. Much more successful. Fewer rules and it's written as it's pronounced for the most part.
I agree with other posters that French is often very badly taught and that you need to see it written down to understand the pattern and the grammar.

claig Tue 14-Sep-10 21:21:13

I have seen phonics programmes to teach Fench. They seemed awfully hard. I speak French, but would have dropped it if I had to learn it via phonics. Is that how it is taught in school nowadays or is it still the more traditional way?

fsmail Tue 14-Sep-10 21:56:59

I am a language graduate and learning the building blocks and the verbs has helped me to both learn new languages and to help my DS with his English homework. I could not imagine being able to speak a language really well without understanding which verbs go with etre. I have used Muzzy with both my kids and this does teach the verbs and breaks it down. I personally would not use phonics. My DS does German at Seconday school and has been doing Spanish at primary school. I fail to see how German can be taught without the grammer. It is fundamental to the language. Songs always worked for me too and did teach primary French using songs.

Azure Tue 14-Sep-10 22:25:35

Many thanks for all your input - it's been very helpful and there is much for me to think about and work on with DS.

ZZZenAgain Tue 14-Sep-10 22:28:17

Is French compulsory for your ds?

ZZZenAgain Tue 14-Sep-10 22:36:31

If so, maybe he needs to do written drills. Perhaps he needs to see the language written down more. Maybe a workbook on those lines would help him.

Or look for a CDRom perhaps?

loopyloops Tue 14-Sep-10 22:58:08

It sounds as if he needs a better teacher tbh.

When I teach this kind of thing to primary aged children even very basic phrases need a lot or repetition. They don't necessarily need to see it written down, and modern MFL teaching advises you not to for primary, but personally I like to.

To learn this particular task I would:

Choose 3 very simple questions (I can't do accents on this, so sorry for that)

*Comment t'appelles-tu? Je m'appelle Fred
*Ca va? - Ca va bien merci / Ca va mal
*Quel age as-tu? J'ai dix ans

I'm assuming that you aren't too hot at French yourself, apologies for this but in case, here is your (kind of) prununciation:

*Kommon tappell too? Jemappell Fred
*sava? cava beeyen mersee / sa ne va pa
*kel ahje a tu? Jhay dees on

Firstly I would go through it with him, asking him what he thinks about the sounds of the words. For example, he might notice the age bit in the age question, he might think that comment sounds a bit like common, which is like a park, or that Ca va sounds a bit like Sarah. He will probably pick up on the fact that the answers are very much like the questions. Anything that he notices is good, as it gets him thinking about the way the language sounds.
If he doesn't notice it himself, point out to him that your voice changes when you ask a question, as it goes up at the end. Give him examples in English.

If you like, get him to write it down. If you do this on pieces of card, he can play pairs, by turning them upside down and matching them up, or you can play snap together.

I would probably deal with each question one at a time. So for the name question, ask him and he should respond. Get him to ask you, DH, anyone else he comes into contact with. Keep repeating as much as possible, and if you can, in a particular sing-song way that he can get lodged into his brain. I have a song that I like to use for this question, but unless you speak Welsh (~?!) you probably won't know it, so try and thing of your own little ditty.

For the second question, after lots of repetition, you can use your face to give him visual cues. Get him to ask how you are, and pull a face. HE then answers the question. You can have a lot of fun going through magazines or just watching TV and getting him to tell you how people are.

For the last question, I'd do the same things again, but experiment with different numbers. He should know up to 10 at least I'd think. If not, write them down for him. Find some pictures of children and get him to guess their ages. Do the same with your fingers. Children really love mini whiteboards, so if you can write a number and he answers as quickly as he can he'll be motivated.

Using anything that he really loves will help, so if he likes football, use pics of footballers to guide you. Ask him to pick a footballer (or famous person, whoever) to "be" and you "interview" him. Then you pick someone and afterwards he has to tell you all about that person. Make it fun, it shouldn't be a chore.

All in all, he should be fine. Even if he struggles, by the time he gets to secondary school it will get ironed out. Different teaching methods are used at secondary and they are often more effective. Don't worry.

Sorry about the essay!

Litchick Wed 15-Sep-10 08:25:39

I have noticed a huge difference in the way French and Latin are taught.

French seems to be project lead iyswim. So the class learn all about places/directions or the family and yes, it's all little phrases that are not immediately and obviously transferable to another setting.

Latin is taught the old fashioned way. Learning conjugations, the basic four rule etc. The speed of learning is brilliant. My kids can now translate fairly complex sentences.
Both mine find it much more logical and thus easier.

I wish modern languages were taught in the same way. Sigh.

loopyloops Wed 15-Sep-10 08:43:44

The reason it isn't is because it simply isn't engaging for any children apart from the most able and willing.
I assume your children are learning both at private school? I have found that it is much easier to use a more traditional method of teaching at a private school. The pupils are often more used to these methods (Ofsted wouldn't let a state school get away with it) and usually parental support is such that children have reinforcement at home, with this style of learning often being preferred by private school-type parents. It simply wouldn't be possible any more in a state school. (It is frowned upon for the teacher to sit down or stand at the front, and for activities to last more than 10-15 minutes according to Ofsted marking guidelines. Lessons have to be interactive, and teachers feel the pressure to do "exciting" lessons, prancing around, singing and dancing).
The probable reason for disparity between teaching of French and Latin at your school is that no modern curriculum exists for Latin, whereas there are lots of modern resources available to French.

Litchick Wed 15-Sep-10 08:48:31

Ah, I see, and yes, you are right, they are at private school.

I can see that perhaps the old style of learning looks, on paper at least, as if it may be dry. I guess the skill is in the Latin teacher.

But both my kids prefer the way Latin is taught.
I think they've always found French a little unanchored iyswim.

DD has now begun Spanish and I'll be very interested to see how that is taught.

claig Wed 15-Sep-10 09:19:04

"It is frowned upon for the teacher to sit down or stand at the front, and for activities to last more than 10-15 minutes according to Ofsted marking guidelines. Lessons have to be interactive, and teachers feel the pressure to do "exciting" lessons, prancing around, singing and dancing"

What year were these changes in teaching style introduced? Did nobody in Ofsted challenge the singing and dancing methods? Why did the private schools decide to give it a wide berth and stick to a more traditional approach?

loopyloops Wed 15-Sep-10 09:35:08

I'm not sure that it was a sudden thing. Modern training for MFL teachers has a very strong emphasis on interactive, exciting teaching and learning. Ofsted like the singing and dancing methods as they are effective at engaging the majority of pupils.
Private schools tend to employ teachers who a) went to private school themselves, so have hard and fast ideas about teaching methods b) are older (therefore trained longer ago) and c) aren't specifically trained at all. Obviously this isn't always the case, but with public sector cuts, state schools have a tendency to employ NQTs and younger teachers for financial reasons.
Also, parents tend to have a greater say in private curriculum, and private parents tend to be more traditional in expectations.

Litchick Wed 15-Sep-10 09:55:13

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of chalk and talk.
Many teaching methods needed updating.

But I do take issue with the all singing/dancing approach. We should give our children credit for being able to sit still and learn for a nano second.

Life, and certainly education, ought not attempt to emulate a computor game.

Sometimes I feel we are letting the tail wag the dog.

Litchick Wed 15-Sep-10 09:55:35

Not a fan, obviously.

loopyloops Wed 15-Sep-10 09:58:10

Oh, I totally agree. The reason teachers are often ill and give up teaching after a few years is simply that they burn out. Quiet time is important for all our sanity!

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