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Cool on camera

A chance to be 'on TV' worked wonders for students' French speaking skills, reports Carolyn O'Grady

Young people sitting on high chairs answer rather too personal questions from a girl who can't see them. On the basis of their answers, she chooses one to be her companion for a holiday. Sound familiar? Yes, it's the popular "Blind Date in French". With its brazen focus on such aspects of language learning as personality traits, looks and clothes, this was an obvious choice for a "modern languages on camera" project at Charles Edward Brooke School for Girls in Lambeth, south London.

The project, which aimed to help students feel more confident speaking another language and to introduce them to vocabulary and idiom not often found in textbooks, such as the slang and colloquial French used by young people, had an added attraction: students filmed their scripted and rehearsed scenes in the school's studio.

"This group likes doing things to camera," says teacher Amanda Sitto. "It's a good chance to use some of the other skills they have, like acting, as well as reinforcing some key vocabulary they've learned and introducing some French slang. After all, this is the kind of language they are going to meet."

A lively group of Year 9 students worked with East-Side Educational Trust, a charity which organises arts projects. The project began with a French rap song by IAM, "Je danse le MIA", loosely translated as "I'm dancing the gangster rap", and filled with colloquialisms such as "Tu es fada je crains degun, je vous prends tous ici, un par un!" - roughly: "You are mad; I'm not scared of anyone; I can take you all one by one."

The Blind Date format gave students plenty of opportunities to practise questions and answers. These included: "Que fais-tu le weekend?" and answers such as "J'aime le skate" (I like skateboarding). That English words such as "cool" and "skate" could be incorporated into French came as a surprise.

In groups of four or five, students began writing their scripts. Words were kept to a minimum and the emphasis was on working with vocabulary they already knew. Gesture was as important as words, it was stressed. Some groups created giant speech bubbles on cards to show characters' thoughts.

One, held over the head of a failed contestant, read "Pourquoi pas moi?"

and another "interessant", as a contestant heard something to her liking.

Another lesson was spent finalising the script and rehearsing so that the girls were confident in expressing the French and knew what they were saying. They discussed where they would position themselves, and how to use cue cards and project their characters' feelings.

But it was in front of the camera that the project really came to life. In the school's studio each group took it in turns to run through their scene, which lasted about three minutes. They lost their self-consciousness to a remarkable degree and began to speak with greater naturalness. They also wanted to know more French so they could improve their performances. "How do I say, 'Thank you for watching the show?'" asked one.

Later, the class watched their videos together and commented on each group's performance. "It was nice to do something different from normal text-based work," says Ms Sitto. "Students especially liked the drama element."

Fourteen-year-old Yetti had no doubt about the best part: "The cameras. It felt like it was real life and it was fun."

Many girls expressed an interest in making more videos in a foreign language. "On realistic things, things that happen to me," said one.

Suggested subjects included a shooting, a romance, or why young people shouldn't take drugs.

Set the scene

Use familiar key vocabulary, but also introduce some slang, either in discussion or through music or a video.

Reinforce key aspects of grammar and vocabulary through games. For example, students can be given questions and answers and asked to find their match.

Keep text to a minimum and emphasise the importance of physical language.

Each scene can be filmed and played back immediately or edited for a more polished version.

Make sure students speak clearly when being filmed.

In the review, encourage students to say what they wish they had done better.

The videoed scenes can be shown to other classes later.

East-Side Educational Trust, Hamilton House, 1 Temple Avenue, London EC4Y 0HA Tel: 020 7489 2032 Fax: 020 7427 6000

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