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french in primary school

(52 Posts)
3duracellbunnies Sat 17-Sep-11 07:19:22

I'm new to mumsnet, but have read posts for a while. I am a bit concerned about my dd2 who is in yr2. Her form teacher is teaching them french, but dd1 is coming home pronouncing words as we would say them in English, e.g. lion. She says her teacher opens the book and reads the word out to them. Dh's family are french so he is gettling a bit concerned. We end up correcting her, but are worried the incorrect pronounciation may stick.

Her teacher is v nice, she had her last year too, and I have a potential solution in that I know a retired french teacher who drops her grandsons at the school and says she might be able to teach a bit or help her. I am just not sure how best to approach it, talk to the teacher directly or whether to talk to the head so I don't upset her feelings. It's not that I expect her to become fluent , but I don't want her learning it incorectly. It is also quite possible that she is being taught it correctly but forgetting when she gets home. Any advice?

piellabakewell Sat 17-Sep-11 07:44:24

I'd love to have a native speaker come in and teach my lot! They need to have a CRB check first though. If I were you, I'd approach the Headteacher rather than the class teacher. You don't need to criticise the teacher, just act like you're doing them a favour - you are!

chickflit Sat 17-Sep-11 07:50:42

I have this the other way round, I'm a native English speaker in France. The teachers are expected to teach English but they don't speak it. I volunteered to run an English Club after school (I work during the day) so every Friday night I go along to the garderie and teach the children who want to learn.

I think it's unfair that governments put pressure on teachers to teach languages to primary school children when they can't even speak the language themselves.

I imagine if you could provide a native speaker to come and help the school would take you up on it.

PrettyCandles Sat 17-Sep-11 08:02:36

Similar situation here, except that every other week a professional French teacher takes the class instead of the form teacher. Nonetheless, after 3y of once-a-week French lessons, ds still cannot pronounce anything correctly ("dee" and "lee" for de and le) and cannot say anything useful other than the phrases I taught him when we were on holiday.

It has been a complete waste of a learning opportunity and we have complained to the Head. Who agrees, and plans to change the way afrench is taught - yay!

It really is ridiculous, the way primary teachers are expected to teach every subject.

Definitely discuss with the Head and offer any help or alternatives you can. Now is the time for children to learn languages.

3duracellbunnies Sat 17-Sep-11 08:08:28

She's not a native, kind of upper middle class southern, would need to get her to talk to dh to assess accent. She reminds me more of my secondary school teachers, not sure they will get the best accent, but dd1 is lucky that she naturally has a good accent, which dh can help her with. At least with this teacher they might get the correct pronounciation. I agree it is one thing asking a teacher to teach about castles, as you can read up on it but you can't just read up on french. Do you think she would feel offended that I went over her head rather than raising it with her directly?

VoldemortsNipple Sat 17-Sep-11 08:10:44

My dcs primary school has a fantastic native speaking Spanish teacher. It really helps. In fact when DD went up to secondary, it took her ages to get used to her new teachers Spanish accent as it was laced with a Liverpool accent.

All the dcs in the primary school from nursery upwards have two Spanish lessons per week. One with the Spanish teacher and one with their class teacher.

rabbitstew Sat 17-Sep-11 08:15:03

I agree with PrettyCandles. You might as well not bother to learn a language if you aren't going to be taught what the language is actually supposed to sound like (there's no point in parrotting incorrectly pronounced words that would mean nothing to a native speaker, given that language is all about successful communication...), and the younger you are when you start learning a language properly, the better. Not approaching the school when you have someone who might be able to help out would be a wasted opportunity, even if it only results in the setting up of an after school club rather than to changes to lessons (although hopefully it would result in both!...).

rabbitstew Sat 17-Sep-11 08:22:45

ps if you have an agenda that actually covers your point of view on language teaching within the whole school and an offer of help that covers all the teachers in the school, then approach the HT. If the offer actually only relates to someone coming into your dd's class, then approach the class teacher.

VoldemortsNipple Sat 17-Sep-11 09:01:06

Out of interest, why doesnt your DH speak French to them anyway. If I had a child with duel heritage, I would wish them to be fluent in both languages. I think you should get your DH to speak to them only in french.

3duracellbunnies Sat 17-Sep-11 09:25:22

Unfortunately he isn't fluent, he has a good accent and we can get by in france, we spend 3-4 weeks a year there, but not enough to just talk in french. We have taught them some, so both dd1 and dd2 can introduce themselves and order breakfast. We don't know though what they are going to be taught each week, and then dd1 says 'well mrs ****' says it is said like this, and of course at that age she thinks her teacher is god! Also we don't want her then going into school and telling the class that daddy says the teacher is wrong. I think this person would be able to do a morning a week, so maybe best to speak to the ht, just don't want her teacher to feel undermined. She may of course be relieved not to have to teach something she isn't confident in.

ZZZenAgain Sat 17-Sep-11 09:41:04

iti s a bit awkward to challenge it with the school. Still what is the point in dc learning a language when they are so young in a couple of lessons a week as opposed to immersion? I would say mainly that it is so easy for them to pick up the sound of the language and that is why it is particularly unfortunate if the language input they receive is so far off the mark. If they are immersed in the language, they would also be picking up grammar differently, however that isn't the case for dc in British schools having a lesson once or twice a week.

I suppose poor pronunciation could be corrected later on with a lot of attention to detail but it is best not to develop bad habits from the start rather than try and fix entrenched habits later on.

LIZS Sat 17-Sep-11 09:44:35

I don't think you can rely on school to teach more than basic vocab anyway. If you are keen for them to learn more get some basic story books in french for your dh to read to them or dvd's.

meditrina Sat 17-Sep-11 09:57:01

"poor pronunciation could be corrected later on"

I'm not at all sure this is right. The age at which you start learning a language has a lifelong effect on whether you ever sound "right" in it. Before 8 ish and you are likely sound right: 8-teens, your accent will be a bit off; later, even if you've learned fluency, the interference patterns of your original language will always show. Obviously there will be outliers to this, but what a child learns before they are 8 is disproportionately important to how you sound.

A tape/video would be preferable in terms of pronunciation and accent.

clam Sat 17-Sep-11 10:13:50

There are a number of good schemes that can help teachers who aren't confident speaking French (or whatever language). The correct pronunciation is on the DVDs or online sessions. We have a range in school which I still use, even though I'm quite reasonable at French myself. Other staff who aren't depend on the schemes much more, or swap amongst each other to cover. The class teacher still needs to be aware of what's going on.
The ideal scenario though, is not for one long session each week, but to dip in and out few minutes at a time to reinforce the current vocab. So we check the date and the weather and how we're feeling today every morning at registration. We answer the register in French, count how many people are present and absent and so on. Stand up, sit down, hands up/down etc... is all in French. Basic stuff but regular.
That said, I wouldn't be so keen to do it in Spanish!

PrettyCandles Sat 17-Sep-11 10:29:18

There's a world of difference between poor pronunciation and incomprehensible pronunciation.

"Regarday ler leeyaw!" compared with "Reegardezz lee lye-on!"

And it works both ways. If the child is not taught proper pronunciation then they won't understand when spoken to in that language. Teaching a language badly is probably worse than not teaching it at all.

As Rabbitstew said, language is all about successful communication.

I was taught French by a very English teacher, who took great care to teach us good pronunciation. In my teens I holidayed in France several times, and had no difficulties being understood. But although my pronunciation was good, I spoke French to an English rhythm and it was obvious that I was English. In my 20s I studied French in France for a term and corrected my rhythm by doing a course of language lab, by the end of which the French could not tell which country I came from - apparently I sounded like a foreigner who had been living in France for many years.

Elibean Sat 17-Sep-11 10:51:48

Oh DO offer help to the school/HT, a native speaker is always welcome at our school.

dd1 has been taught Italian (by a lovely Italian lady with perfect Italian) since Reception. She is now in Y3 and basically knows 'ciao' grin but I think that's dd, not the teacher. She does speak French, but not from school - I am half French.

School has a French club, taught by French women only.

MmeLindor. Sat 17-Sep-11 10:58:22

The problem with poor pronunciation is that it can mean the difference between being understood and not being understood.

The difference between kuche and küche in German is - for an English speaker - very slight but use the former and many Germans will simply not understand what you are trying to say.

Schools are under a lot of pressure to start teaching MFL from a young age, but there are simply not enough fluent language speaking teachers to do this. And even more so in UK than in Switzerland or Germany.

I would have a word with the teacher - perhaps it would be good if your DH could speak to her - and if she admits that she is unsure, you could talk to the HT about other options.

Bartimaeus Sat 17-Sep-11 11:09:04

I agree with MmeLindor
I remember being horrified when I went to France after 2 terms of studying French at uni and no one being able to understand me blush although my French was technically correct (grammar etc.). My pronounciation was hideous.

After a few weeks of being totally immersed in French I got a lot better, and now I've lived here for years and everyone can understand me. I still have an English accent, but no stronger than someone with, say a Marseille accent, so no problems with communication.

We're hoping DS (due in 2 weeks) will be fluent in both languages, but more importantly be able to do both accents as he'll be learning from birth.

adelaofblois Sat 17-Sep-11 15:19:37

Primary teachers have been rather thrown in at the deep end with French-lots of stress previously on teaching it, good schemes compensating for limited abilities, but then withdrawal of statutory KS2 idea makes it limited priority.

The situation is not helped by the fact that most of us, even those with good language skills, learnt French at secondary school, and these models come through-observing French lessons in KS1 make sit clear they are often much more tightly structured, and based around the written word, than many other lessons at that level. And there are problems-couple of kids in YR3 class can't get grip of /le/ sound in English, but are now reading 'le' on the board-not helpful.

Native language expertise is invaluable-do talk to the Head. But the teacher coming in needs to aim at something closer to ecole maternelle than to what she might be used to teaching FAFL-lots of songs, games etc. The secondary model-start with intros move on-is not necessarily appropriate, however well pronounced.

MeMySonAndI Sat 17-Sep-11 15:34:26

TBH, I think all this language teaching in primary school when the teacher is not qualified to do so is not only a waste of time, money but also damaging to the child later language learning. If you don't believe me, try to correct the pronunciation of people who first learned the language badly in the first place.

One hour of French a week in school is not going to make bilingual children, much less so when the teacher doesn't know the language herself. The only times I have seen young children succeeding at learning another language in school is when half of the day is taught in English and the other half on the other language...

Choufleur Sat 17-Sep-11 15:40:45

I think it's a bit pointless teaching something that you know nothing about.

Do Yr3 kids really get taught to read and write french. Sounds a silly idea - they should learn to speak it first.

I'm not looking forward to DS learning it tbh. I did french at uni and lived there for a year. and like other posters realised that I actually couldn't speak French properly until living there - it is about accent and intonation. My french is rusty now but I can see that I am going to be cringing.

ZZZenAgain Sat 17-Sep-11 15:45:41

primary is a good age to encounter a foreign language and start to learn it but the input a dc receives has to be useful. It really is no good if a dc is being told to pronounce the final consonant in a French word though like I don't know -chat. Maybe the intention is good but if it isn't done well, it maybe would be best left

exoticfruits Sat 17-Sep-11 16:01:18

The problem is that primary schools have to teach a language and very often the teacher doesn't speak it! One of those mad things.
On supply I have had to teach it-I hate it because I know that my accent is poor and not something that I wish to pass on.
I know one school where they had to do Spanish and the teacher didn't know a word-she had to go to an evening class to keep one step ahead!
The government really shouldn't give directives without the money for specialist staff. In one area a proper French teacher goes around several schools-much the best way.

adelaofblois Sat 17-Sep-11 16:18:29

Surely primary school teachers nearly always teach something they are not 'expert' in? I teach music and singing, but am a tone deaf bawler-I use lots of spotify and prepare incredibly thoroughly. I teach PE but wheeze carrying two kids back from Sainsbury's etc. What's odd about MFL is that because it has only recently been a priority, and then zoomed around the priority spectrum, people are not encouraged to think about how to make allowance for their knowledge gaps.

I think there is an issue here with what is 'expected' of language learning, with most parents remembering secondary or higher experiences. I run a KS1 french club and we sing songs, learn some basic vocab by adapting games and interests of the children, and have a different lunch to the other pupils. It isn't equipping them to communicate-we don't really do anything beyond personal intros towards the end of the year (although I'd hope the pronunciation wasn't awful) but it is showing kids something of a different culture, getting them used to the idea of using words other than English ones to say something, and developing their confidence in moving beyond the cultural and linguistic areas they are comfortable with. All those things are very valuable when formal language teaching cuts in (as is hinted at by the fact that bilingual speakers work better in a third language-which has nothing to do with ' subject knowledge').

exoticfruits Sat 17-Sep-11 16:27:16

I am not expert in a lot of things but teaching a foreign language without the correct accent does more harm than good.
DCs copy what you go-as proved when I watched a class of 6 yr olds sing a song taught to them by a visiting Australian teacher-all in a strong Australian accent!!

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