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Standard of French

(190 Posts)
mutley1 Sun 23-Nov-14 17:41:53

AIBU I am so angry about the poor teaching of French at DDs secondary school. They don't teach them how to decline verbs how to form different tenses etc etc they just have them copying great chunks of sentences out that the students have no knowledge of the meaning of and so cannot use the words to form other sentences. It's just hopeless. Anyone any experience/advice

TeenAndTween Sun 23-Nov-14 19:29:51

What year group?

In y7 it was like this for DD, it concentrated on being able to say set phrases, and then slightly adapting them.

But in y8 they started at the beginning again with grammar.

I'm not keen, but it seems to have worked out OK (now in y11 and seems OK at grammar).

TheFirstOfHerName Sun 23-Nov-14 19:42:08

When I learned French, we conjugated verbs, not declined them. We did decline nouns in Latin. There seems to be less of an emphasis on grammar these days, and more of a focus on topic-based vocabulary.

clary Sun 23-Nov-14 21:06:41

I teach French and German and don't tend to teach great rafts of grammar as it can just confuse the students.

You didn't learn to speak English by learning I go, you go, he/she/it goes.

I find the best way is to introduce phrases that are useful for the topic and expand from there as needed - eg in yr 7 we do a lot of work on simple questions and answers in term 1, so my students can all say/write "I have a dog/I have two sisters/I am 11 years old" etc. But now we are also writing about the dog or the sister so the question of "he is/she has" comes up quite naturally.

Don't like the sound of copying chunks of sentences - that's never a great way to learn anything tbh.

YY what year is she in?

BrendaBlackhead Mon 24-Nov-14 10:39:34

I spent five years banging my head against a brick wall - complaining at parents' evenings about the "holiday French" ds was doing.

I can conjugate any amount of verbs - but - as a product of O Levels, I cannot speak any French to save my life! Unseen translations - no problem. Having to ask for a train ticket? Cue much stammering and stuttering in a terrible posh English accent with smatterings of franglais.

Theas18 Mon 24-Nov-14 10:54:36

Fence sitting here for 2 reasons. Firstly TBH non of mine were ever going to cont languages post GCSE and were getting the marks they needed so I left them to it ..

But surely the French/german they need is " holiday" anyway? Asking for a train ticket, buying a beer, saying " good morning its a lovely day" in a way that is sufficiently formal/informal... That's what they need isn't it? Even if the grammar is wobbling along the lines of " I was going to Paris tomorrow ticket I need" .... OK it'll give the ticket chap a laugh but you'll get what you require .

BrendaBlackhead Mon 24-Nov-14 10:58:38

I think both would be the best route.

Ds achieved an A* and his French is frankly appalling compared with mine wink so I suppose it doesn't matter. But from an academic point of view, I am disappointed.

TheAlias Mon 24-Nov-14 11:00:08

I can't believe we haven't sorted out language teaching in this country yet.

My DSs spent 4 years "learning" Spanish in primary, I believe because they had a TA who had a bit of holiday Spanish and that was the best they could do. They can count to 10 and sing some songs. Now they're at the local secondary, they're doing French and German confused

I got an A at O-level French and learned all the correct grammar etc. It's now very rusty but even at the time it could never be said that I could speak French and yet I was awarded an A. I actually think holiday French would have been more useful to me.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Mon 24-Nov-14 12:40:27

I teach French and German and don't tend to teach great rafts of grammar as it can just confuse the students.

This is the saddest thing I've ever read on MN outside of the Relationships board.

I completely appreciate that there will be a variety of capabilities in any school but the thought of schools full of pupils who will never be able to read a novel in another language is so, so disheartening.

But perhaps I'm the only person left alive who thinks learning how languages work is just as important as being able to ask for a sandwich.

IndridCold Mon 24-Nov-14 14:14:35

But perhaps I'm the only person left alive who thinks learning how languages work is just as important as being able to ask for a sandwich.

It's not only you Zero, if that's any consolation.

From reading the posts here we seem to have a situation where it is possible to get an A for GCSE in a language with scarcely any grasp of grammar and a total inability to hold even the most basic conversation. This seems to imply that hours and hours of joyless and pointless lessons (for teachers and pupils alike) are taking place everyday, which is certainly a most depressing thought.

I have been going to French classes for about 4 years (building on O level from years ago) and I love my lessons. We are all pretty fluent speakers, and we quite enjoy looking at some of the grammar too, following this up with 'real life' examples in stories and songs. There is absolutely no reason why learning another language cannot be enjoyable and effective.

kesstrel Mon 24-Nov-14 14:28:55

"You didn't learn to speak English by learning I go, you go, he/she/it goes. "

When infants learn their native language, they do it through total immersion. The idea that this could be adapted to learning a foreign language later on, in two hours a week, was one of the more bizarre developments of progressive teaching, and is completely unsupported by psychology. It has been one of the biggest reasons for the weakness of language instruction over the last 30 years.

sinclair Mon 24-Nov-14 17:00:37

Love the aspiration up the thread for 16 year olds to be reading novels in French (or other MFL) but really when was that ever the case here?

I am fluent in French and can manage conversation in a couple of other European languages, did a degree in MFL, lived abroad for a number of years yada yada but only manage the odd newspaper when on holiday now. I did A Levels almost before they were invented but even we only read a couple of very accessible set books...hardly Proust.

I have had huge pleasure and not inconsiderable work type benefits from speaking a second language but I underline speaking it - which I had to learn when living there, in my early 20s, when it became clear that the ability to conjugate cueillir was not going to be that useful.

The more conversational approach of today's curriculum seems eminently more sensible.

Viewofthehills Mon 24-Nov-14 17:06:47

Perhaps we should look at how children learn languages in other countries learn English and go from there. Since they are clearly better at it than us there must be some things we could learn?

I suspect in many places it involves films/ cartoons etc.

How do they teach English in France and Germany for example?

basildonbond Mon 24-Nov-14 17:13:01

Current MFL teaching makes my blood boil ... All three of mine in three different schools have done Spanish, starting with the same useless textbook - both ds1 and 2 can parrot useless phrases giving their opinions of email as a method of communication or what they would change if they were headteacher but couldn't order a meal in a restaurant and as for dealing with any kind of emergency, well forget it! They have a bank of phrases which they can spout out for exam purposes (neither is a natural linguist but one got and the other is predicted an A at GCSE) - but they have zero understanding of how the language actually works.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Mon 24-Nov-14 17:26:17

sinclair I wouldn't expect many 16 year olds to be reading novels in French but if, by that age, they have not been taught the basic foundations of the language then how might they ever progress, unless by starting again at an evening class or online course?

Leeds2 Mon 24-Nov-14 17:36:06

Is there a big jump between GCSE and A Level these days? I did A Level French and German many, many years ago and we read 4 books for the literature part. It doesn't sound as though today's candidates would be ready for that.

My speaking skills were appalling though, even though I could read and write reasonably well.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Mon 24-Nov-14 17:52:52

Thinking about it - I distinctly remember Heinrich Böll and Günther Grass from my German O'Level syllabus. Can't recall the French O 'Level but we read Racine, Molière, Alain-Fournier and the inescapable Camus for A'Level ...

Long ago. grin

BOFster Mon 24-Nov-14 17:53:37

I do remember reading novels in A Level French and Spanish: Zola and Camus featured, and Gabriel García Márquez. So maybe not Proust (because it would have taken too long), but they weren't exactly lightweight. And we had to discuss (and quote from the texts) some quite sophisticated concepts like existentialism. My daughter got an A* at French GSCE, but I really don't think she would have been equipped for that kind of stuff at A Level, so I can only assume we were taught to a higher standard. There was equal weighting given to speaking and listening when I did GSCE as to reading and writing, iirc, and it feel I can still get by in practical situations while abroad now, twenty-odd years later, so the teaching then must have been pretty effective.

kesstrel Mon 24-Nov-14 19:12:35

Yes, there is a big jump between GCSE and A level, and students on average do significantly less well at A level than in other subjects, so the numbers willing to take A level languages are declining.

TheWordFactory Mon 24-Nov-14 19:18:41

The current piece meal approach to MFL coupled with controlled assessments and pre-prepared orals mean many students have little grasp of the language.

MFL teachers generally hate it and feel it undervalues their subjects.

Pupils learning 'topics' and phrases within those topics doesn't help anyone grasp the fundamental underpinning of the language.

Leeds2 Mon 24-Nov-14 19:25:48

I thought that might be the case, kesstrel, based on what I know DD did for GSCE and what I did for A Level.

We did Le Petit Prince for A Level, in common with every other French A Level student that year, but also L'Etranger by Camus, a book called Les Clos Du Roi which was about peasant farming and things like dry stone walling, and a play called Le Roi Se Meurt.

For German, we did Irrungen, Wirrungen, Bahnwater Thiel, Die Caucasishe Krederkreis and Die Physiker. Apologies for spelling, it has been a long time!

I cannot imagine DD being able to read the equivalent of any of those books, with the exception of Le Petit Prince, when she had done her Spanish GCSE.

Leeds2 Mon 24-Nov-14 19:27:41

Is that same approach followed at A Level, Word, i.e. controlled assessments and pre prepared orals? How much does literature count for these days?

Genuinely interested. I used to love German.

skylark2 Mon 24-Nov-14 19:28:37

"Love the aspiration up the thread for 16 year olds to be reading novels in French (or other MFL) but really when was that ever the case here?"

One of the oral options for my French O level was to discuss a French book we'd read (okay, I did Le Petit Prince so only marginally a novel, but still...)

We read "real" French novels in the lower sixth. I'm the old end of the year so was 17, but many of my peers were 16. So the answer to "when was that the case" is "1986, right before they brought in GCSEs."

It's a completely standard expectation today that Dutch 16 year olds will be reading novels in English - and French. The standard of written English of the Dutch 18 year old who told me that is sufficiently good that I hadn't realised he wasn't a native English speaker.

DD did French A level last year. They read one book, and could avoid having to answer any questions on it in the exam provided they were prepared to answer the film question no matter how awful it was.

(Oh god, Camus. Couldn't even get through it in English. And Prevert poems. Brrr.)

Greythorne Mon 24-Nov-14 19:28:41

I am baffled by your post. Children learning English do not learn "I go / you go / he goes" etc. because conjugation in English is incredibly simple. But children in France do indeed spend hours and hours learning regular and irregular verbs very carefully because that's the only way to get it. But you want English children to pick up in two hours a week by osmosis what monolingual French kids need to be taught explicitly and practise, practise, practise?

Takver Mon 24-Nov-14 19:29:42

"But surely the French/german they need is " holiday" anyway? "

I've used my O level French endlessly over two different careers - being able to read and make sense of French texts at the very least is enormously helpful given that we're members of a political entity which IME operates very largely on a day to day basis in French . . . Sure, you'll get a paper / briefing doc or whatever translated into English, but you often get several days head start if you can read the original french version.

Both DH & I have drummed it into dd, if there is one school subject where she must work hard and learn everything she can, even if it seems boring to start with, it's MFL.

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