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Bemused by my year 8's French teaching!!

(34 Posts)
conistonoldwoman Wed 05-Oct-11 20:29:28

Can anyone give me a liitle insight into how French is taught in high schools?
My DD comes home with pieces of written homework to complete . There are English phrases and their French counterparts. Tonight she had to make up a weather report using these stock phrases. She cannot pronounce any of the French correctly and really only knows what it means because she has the English translation in front of her.
What emphasis is there on oral practice? Surely there should be loads of spoken French before introducing the writing.

cory Wed 05-Oct-11 21:31:12

My own feeling- and I was educated in a school system where we were expected to learn to speak 2 or 3 modern languages- is that writing and speaking should go together and both should be introduced from the start. And that pupils should be encouraged to read simple books as early as possible.

But I have been shocked by the level and slow pace of French teaching in this country: dd who is in top sets and actually quite bright has supposedly spent 4 years learning the language and still cannot reliably construct a sentence about what she did yesterday or is planning to do tomorrow. And though she now has a native speaker for a teacher, her teacher the first two years was an Englishwoman whose accent you could cut with a knife: it was like a parody of an English accent.

conistonoldwoman Thu 06-Oct-11 19:10:15 DD pronounced 'chaud' as chord because that's what she had heard the teacher say!

It makes me even more cross because of all the money that has been ploughed into MFL in primary schools. Surely this should have accelerated learning in KS3. Children should have an 'ear' for a foreign language if they have had lots of good quality exposure in the primary years.
Perhaps it is all a bit ad hoc..depending on what teacher resources are available.
I just feel so frustrated that my DD has been put off learning a language. She has french cousins, I speak very rudimentary French but understand quite a lot. Ahggh!!

Tinuviel Thu 06-Oct-11 22:48:15

But they haven't had ' lots of good quality exposure in the primary years' - many have had overworked, under-trained primary teachers who are expected to just teach yet another subject that many haven't done anything with since taking GCSE themselves!

So they come to secondary with a bit of vocabulary - usually just lots of nouns, colours, numbers, hopefully with an accent that sounds roughly like French. I know that there are some primary schools doing a fantastic job with MFL - sadly they are not in the area I teach in!

And no, I don't like the way I have to teach languages but unfortunately the textbooks/schemes of work don't really involve enough grammar teaching and there is far too much 'it's all got to be fun' and 'they won't understand grammar'. I love teaching and try and include as much fun, interesting activities as I can but sometimes you just have to do/learn stuff.

Moominmammacat Fri 07-Oct-11 11:41:25

It doesn't get better higher up the school ... my dd has an A* at GCSE and an A at AS in French. She cannot conjugate etre present tense but she's learnt lots of vocab and can parrot many little phrases. Demented way of teaching a language but gets them through the hoop that is the exam.

SecretSquirrels Fri 07-Oct-11 15:41:22

Agree it gets worse.
DS can neither speak nor understand French.
He just got an A* in a French GCSE speaking and listening exam.
Essentially they are told what the test will be about.
He can "construct" French and he has a phenomenal memory. So he wrote out about 300 words on the subject in question, including good vocab, grammar and use of tenses. Then he memorised it word for word and parroted it out at the test.
In my day [grumpy old woman emoticon] we went into an oral exam and had to have a conversation in French with no forward knowledge of the subject.

cory Fri 07-Oct-11 16:39:45

I am not blaming the primary school teachers at all- they have an excuse not to know French.

It was dd's secondary school teacher who had the ghastly accent - and she is paid to do this one thing so imho has no excuse.

This was the woman who at the end of Yr 8 told dd that she expected the imperfect tense would be too difficult for most of the top set but that dd might just manage to grasp it. (This was at a parents' evening so she couldn't exactly blame the textbooks for this pronouncement; she chose to say it).

I just can't understand if you have as your one job to teach a particular language and you notice yourself that when you take pupils abroad on school trips you can't actually understand what people are saying to you but have to rely on other teachers to interpret, why you wouldn't then try to do something about it?

This is a university town, it has one of the best language departments in the country, there are reasonably priced evening classes by highly qualified teachers for every sort of level.

Has this woman got an excuse. No, she jolly well doesn't!

cory Fri 07-Oct-11 16:40:39

Sorry, a superfluous question mark made its way into that rant:

"I can't understand why <exclamation mark>".

conistonoldwoman Fri 07-Oct-11 17:34:58

Interesting comments everyone. From what I remember of my high school french lessons we spent a lot of time on grammar, conjugating verbs etc and learning them. My DD doesn't bring anything like this home. So she is never expected to practice her oral skills. It's just a collection of phrases with their English translation which she has to shovel into a piece of writing.
Tinuviel..why do you think the teaching approach/methodology has been changed? How can students achieve A grades in the manner they are doing?

penguin73 Fri 07-Oct-11 21:28:50

The SOW has been radically changed since many of us here did O-level/GCSE - the inclusion of grammar in the curriculum has been minimised and the expectations of the exam boards are very different. If you google any exam board and look at the syllabus you will be able so see what is now expected and why the content is being delivered in such a different way. Sadly the majority of GCSEs are now 'taught to the exam' - time constraints unfortunately make little else possible as much as a more in-depth exploration of grammar, development of cultural knowledge etc etc would be desirable.

Tinuviel Sat 08-Oct-11 13:25:40

I don't know why they changed it but I've been teaching for 17 years and it really makes me cross how I have to teach because I know that it's not preparing them for higher level languages. Fortunately I took reponsibility for KS3 Spanish Scheme of Work (top sets only) and have organised it to include plenty of grammar but it depends on who is teaching it. A lot of younger teachers don't know how rigorously grammar was taught in 'the olden days' because they have gone through the current system.

A recent example was doing some joint planning for French and they are introducing passé composé to top set year 8 (they currently have no real knowledge of present tense!). But the verbs chosen included aller, which conjugates with être. It seems to be deliberately confusing! There again, they will only learn the 'je' form anyway. To me, you ensure that they can use regular, and some irregular, verbs in the present tense, including avoir and être. You ensure that they can talk about other people as well. Then when you come to the passé composé, you introduce regular verbs which conjugate with avoir; then irregular verbs with avoir; then verbs with être. It's logical and it makes sense!

We home educate our own 3 (I only work 2 days) and I have taught mine using Galore Park textbooks - not nearly as many pretty pictures, but damned rigorous and logical where grammar is concerned! DS1 has started preparing for GCSE and is finding some of the Edexcel book laughably easy. (Listening is more of a challenge as I feel that GP doesn't do that particularly well.)

Tinuviel Sat 08-Oct-11 13:27:12

The other issue is that grammar is not seen as 'fun' so isn't going to motivate them! Actually I have lots of fun grammar activities but it's how it's usually portrayed - as difficult and boring.

fuzzysnout Sat 08-Oct-11 13:45:54

Unfortunately whilst schools are judged by league tables, the majority of schools will teach just what is needed for pupils to pass the exams. League tables don't recognise whether students can actually speak the language so no point in teaching that at the expense of what will be on the exam paper. Not saying that's right - just the way it is...

coastgirl Sat 08-Oct-11 14:10:05

I'm a secondary English teacher who speaks fluent French and as such am often called upon by students who know that to help them with French homework. I am regularly appalled by the standard of French they are being taught and the methods used and I don't think it's at all conducive to actually knowing a language well. I'm not blaming the teachers but feel horrified they have to teach this way. Students often ask me why I don't teach French if I speak it so well, which is sad in itself (i.e. they don't see any point in knowing a language "just because", it has to be for a reason and not because you might just find it interesting or enriching) and I also know I couldn't bear to butcher a foreign language in the way I would be required to in order to teach it.

(And I too have encountered MFL teachers with very poor language skills, including one who could not spell or punctuate in English, her native language, which makes me hmm about how well she could be teaching another language.)

conistonoldwoman Sat 08-Oct-11 22:27:59

Has the delivery of the English curriculum also been dumbed down as well? Please contradict me if I'm way off the mark here...but are pupils spoonfed a lot more or trained in such a way that that they meet the necessary criteria to achieve a certain grade?

cory Sun 09-Oct-11 11:35:04

What puzzles me is that you don't often hear maths teachers or physics teachers grumbling that they can't teach anything that is difficult because everything has got to be fun. Surely there are plenty of pupils who don't enjoy fractions? So how can they get away with it?

I have to say I have never met a maths or science teacher at a parents evening who seemed so clueless about his subject as some ML teachers do. Is it teacher training that is at fault? Or the fact that really good French students can get jobs elsewhere that are better remunerated and less stressful than teaching? (I have heard colleagues in the ML department suggest that it is not necessarily their best students who go into teaching).

coastgirl Sun 09-Oct-11 13:46:07

Interesting question, coniston. I'd say there is some element of truth in what you say BUT to get an A or A* in English/Lit GCSE a student does need to have original opinions and be able to apply critical and analytical skills. The spoonfeedings does happen but the variety of question types and texts mean that it can't be parrotted in the same way as MFL and indeed doing this would be looked on poorly by exam markers. The introuduction of controlled assessment instead of coursework should mean there is less spoonfeeding there as well.

Of course students can be trained to answer exam questions in a certain way but that's just teaching exam technique which is something that's always been done - if they don't know or understand their set texts and haven't engaged with them, they will not be able to get good grades. They might get a C but this is no longer a good grade for most purposes!

Cory, I can't comment on MFL teacher training but I know MFL is teaching is often held up as an example of "good practice" when it comes to lesson planning. They use a LOT of what I consider gimmicky rubbish like whiteboard "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", picture matching exercises, interactive keypads etc etc. Stuff that I think is good fun for the last five minutes with a KS3 class who have worked hard and are progressing well seems to form the backbone of their teaching. But then I think fun is overrated [mean teacher emoticon]

kalidasa Sun 09-Oct-11 14:35:43

Really interesting thread. I am a lecturer involved in language teaching at university level at a good university (Russell Group). This year I am teaching complete beginners' (which I don't often do). Our degree is structured so that even those who aren't concentrating on the language/literature element have to have a go at a language. Along with my seminar teachers we had to devote the first week - both lectures and seminars - to covering extremely basic grammatical concepts in English - nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, what is a conjugation, subject, object etc - because we cannot assume that these extremely bright students (largely As at A-level in all subjects) are familiar with this material. Only about half the room could confidently identify 'quickly' as an adverb, for instance. (The rest thought it was an adjective.) I had assumed that the literacy hour had improved things in this respect a bit but apparently not - perhaps they do in fact cover this stuff at primary school but then not at secondary school? Would be interested to know. I did notice that those who do know something often seem to be basing it on good recall of primary-level work (e.g. a verb is a 'doing word'). I had also assumed that it would only be the handful with no modern language at all after 14 that might struggle with this material, but this thread demonstrates why I was wrong - obviously they are not necessarily meeting these terms even at GCSE in a MFL.

Quite shocking tbh! I love teaching grammar and in a way it's exciting to be introducing such basic - but totally perspective-shifting - concepts to students. But I am a university lecturer not a school teacher and I was surprised to find myself doing this stuff. (And of course it's also tough for them to be introduced to these terms and concepts for the very first time in the context of a demanding and swiftly-paced beginners' language course.)

weblette Sun 09-Oct-11 14:50:18

Dd has just started Yr7 in a very academic language specialism grammar school. Her French teacher cannot pronounce the word 'cent' correctly and they do not have a clue how to deal with a child who can already speak French.

Not impressed.

The English teaching would seem to be better, they add Latin next year so we'll see how much the girls understand in the way of practical grammar.

snowball3 Sun 09-Oct-11 15:08:19

Both my sons have been "through" a grammar school with a language specialism- which clearly wasn't French! Although both achieved a reasonable GCSE ( one an A grade, the other a B) neither can actually string two words together into a coherent sentence unless it is one they have "learnt" for the oral exams-which seem to be just a case of memorising a passage and regurgitating it on command, whereas my French oral was a conversation with a French Assistant who was a native speaker! They are unable to hold even a cursory conversation with me ( and my french is of the "passed GCE level French 35 years ago and have had a few holidays in France since" variety) and don't seem to need to!

breadandbutterfly Sun 09-Oct-11 16:23:53

How interesting - my dd has just started French for the first time in yr 7 at an academic school but even my dh - who admits to being rubbish at languages - is shocked by how bad my dd's accent is. She appears to just be given written words but no idea how to say them in a French accent. I teach EFL and would never teach written vocab until it had been heard first, otherwise the tendency is to pronounce it as you think it ought to sound rather than does sound.

lostinthought Sun 09-Oct-11 17:44:26

I'm finding this thread really interesting but a little depressing. I am moving back to the UK in a couple of weeks and DD will enter year two. DD's current school is a local Arabic language primary which also teaches English and French (five 40 minute lessons of each a week). The French teaching really emphasizes correct pronunciation and I have learnt from DD and her homework how to correctly pronounce words that I got wrong all through school.

I am absolutely rubbish at languages (grade A GCSE French and German but unable to speak more than a few words of either) and have no idea how to help DD improve on the French she has learnt here once we get home.

Slambang Sun 09-Oct-11 18:13:28

Very much agree.

I'm learning German at the moment just for my own interest. our teacher showed us one of last year's GCSE papers. I was gobsmacked that you did not have to produce any German at all in the reading comprehension section. You read a German passage and then answer English questions on the passage in English. Even as a one term's worth beginner I could pretty much guess 90% of the answers based on common sense and gut feeling. The 'writing' paper requires reproduction of a text the student has previously written, had checked by the teacher and then learnt off by heart and the oral involves rote answers to set (pre-prepared) questions.

The entire exam can be passed at high level without a student actually being able to 'produce' any authentic German themselves. What is the actual point of doing the subject then???

kalidasa Sun 09-Oct-11 18:26:58

Goodness I am quite shocked by that description Slambang! (And I thought I was fairly realistic about current GCSE/A level standards.) Can any language teachers on here confirm if that's the case - that all actual German/French/whatever in the exam can be pre-prepared I mean? Is this true even at the highest levels (e.g. to get an A/A*)?

I took GCSE French back in 1994 and although the format of the exam was quite predictable (I seem to remember you inevitably had to write a letter at some point, so could rote learn how to sign on and off and so on) you definitely had to both write and speak spontaneously. I remember being very nervous of the oral exam for exactly that reason.

breatheslowly Sun 09-Oct-11 18:37:10

I covered a year 10 German lesson when I was a teacher and I was shocked by the use of vocab books to construct sentences - it was as if the pupils didn't actually know any German and were using a rudimentary form of Babelfish. When I learnt languages I did feel a bit held back by not having been taught any English grammar. Our language teachers refused to speak any English after about 1 year of teaching us and I think that helped to set the tone of our lessons.

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