First Fun with French, Video Pounds 8.99 (40 mins). Abbey Home Entertainment, Warwick House, 106, Harrow Road, London W21XD.
Carolyn McInnes looks at French for primary children Fun is what these publications are all about. Games, physical activities, cartoon characters and music enable even the youngest child to enjoy contact with a new language. And since a knowledge of French is not essential on the part of the groupclass leader, the non-specialist teacher or parent can become actively involved in the children's learning.
Harrap's French for Fun packs do not claim to be complete language courses, but to "generate early enthusiasm and interest". Children become involved with French through mime, games, music and movement. Language examples for each activity are on tape and the handbook provides various ideas for their exploitation.
The first pack, aimed at four to eight-year-olds, introduces children in an energetic and exciting way to hearing, speaking, and responding to French, with a good deal of linguistic, physical and social involvement from the start. It covers topics like meeting people, counting, colours and weather. The second pack presents more sophisticated language structures, and includes family, days of the week, descriptions, parts of the body and ordering meals. Games and authentic songs reinforce the language and there is a lot of running around and carrying out of commands. Very young learners are encouraged to involve their soft toys in the games and children have a chance to lead the activities themselves in the "A vous maintenant" section of each unit.
Although teachers are given plenty of useful advice in the handbooks, their involvement would have been easier if the pauses on the tape had been longer and each piece of language repeated. Having a finger constantly poised over the rewind button can be frustrating (especially during a game of Twister!). It is unfortunate also that more use is not made of the songs, which tend to be too fast and too short.
Photocopiable pages are included but extra materials will be needed for larger groups of children (there are only four prepared Loto cards, for example). However, these packs provide an excellent resource for making children's early experiences with French positive and enjoyable.
The video First Fun with French (based on the book First Hundred Words in French, from Usborne) is aimed at very young learners. The cartoon character Isabelle leads the viewer (in English) through a typical day, introducing items of vocabulary in French as they come up family, furniture, clothes, food and drink, the park, animals, numbers (1-5), bathtime and so on.
Children will enjoy meeting the characters in the video, and will easily identify with the situations. They will also enjoy looking for the little yellow ducks hidden throughout the cartoon. But the video does not encourage much linguistic participation. There is little opportunity (without constantly stopping the tape) for children to repeat vocabulary. Nor is there much chance, except briefly at the end, to recap on words already heard. A lot of teacherparent intervention is required at the end of each topic area, if the child is to assimilate the French.
The constant translation into English is at best unnecessary and at worst demotivating. Children see the object and hear the French word. They do not then need to hear the English word as well. Without this intrusive translation, they would more readily absorb the language. The lack of authentic "Frenchness" in the visuals is also disappointing, but "Fr re Jacques" provides a lively and traditional accompaniment throughout.
Although it does not go far enough towards reinforcing and consolidating the vocabulary it presents, First Fun with French could provide an entertaining background to language project work in the primary classroom, playgroup or home.