Eleanor Caldwell looks at modern language materials for pupils with learning difficulties and advanced students.
What good is French to them anyway? They've enough trouble with English. " A common enough complaint by mainstream language teachers, struggling to teach an ability range which appears to include ever-increasing numbers of pupils at the lower end of the scale.
From a different perspective, however, using the skills of the special school teacher, the acquisition of a second language can be seen as an exciting by-product of intensive work on basic learning skills. Linguistic fundamentals such as the recognition of words and sounds, copy writing and matching words to pictures can be developed from scratch using the second language. Add to this an on-going education in social skills expressing opinions, giving information or talking about yourself and the value of teaching a language to pupils with special needs becomes more apparent. The difficulty lies not so much in accepting the theory as in implementing the practice.
The authors of Le francais, c'est facile have approached this issue first and foremost from the special needs angle with a clear understanding of the step-by-step approach to language acquisition. It is divided into nine topic-based modules, with a welcome break from the predictable unit titles to more user-friendly titles like "Being a Teenager" and "Enjoying Life". In common with other courses, modules are sub-divided into topics such as pocket money, clothes and so on. Nothing particularly surprising in this, however, where Le francais, c'est facile comes into its own is in its sheer economy of resource material. For basic vocabulary teaching there are sets of small, card-size, photocopiable pictures with vocabulary printed on the reverse. These could be used for language games or be reproduced in larger format as flashcard or display material.
The real attraction of Le francais, c'est facile lies in the production of worksheet templates, designed to be adapted for different levels, developing different skills across all the modules. Three sets of templates, in ascending order of difficulty, allow for worksheets to be made up, practising a range of skills basic copying, wordpicture matching, filling blanks, listening and recognised language. For each blank template, a sample template offers practical ideas for its use in a particular topic. With this bank of templates and pictures, the possibilities for worksheets are enormous.
The format of the package has a methodical feel to it and one which abandons the up-beat style of current courses in favour of a simple and non-threatening alternative. It is worth noting that there is no listening tape with the resource pack, so basic listening work would be conducted by the teacher, but this is compensated by the tape of French songs which adds a musical dimension. Language in the form of song or rhyme is easily retained and, with the games and activities from the booklet, should provide a fun interlude.
As a resource pack within a special school, Le francais, c'est facile would offer a bank of materials which could be constantly amended and augmented. A whole new area of language: "pour aller a la salle de classe, on va en fauteuil roulant" addresses a most realistic linguistic need for many. For pupils with special needs in large mixed-ability classes in mainstream, its usefulness might be more limited. Perhaps only within a closely-structured individual or group-teaching system would it offer the hope that French really is easy.