A feel for French

13th June 2008 at 01:00
Forget language learning by rote, a new scheme for teaching French has pupils playing memory games. Biddy Passmore translates
Forget language learning by rote, a new scheme for teaching French has pupils playing memory games. Biddy Passmore translates

Do you remember learning to introduce yourself in French with a rather complicated verb (Je m'appelle Fifi), and trying to learn the rules of grammar and long lists of vocabulary parrot fashion?

Well, forget all that, says Maria Rice-Jones. "It is laborious and what is learnt is often quickly forgotten."

Instead of those old, off-putting methods, Maria has devised a scheme of teaching French in primary schools that encourages children to play with words and language structures and to create their own memorising techniques.

Her Hexagonie scheme, of which the first part has just been published, features a fairytale set in a six-sided country (France - often called L'Hexagone by the French). It is ruled by the two most important French verbs - Le Roi Etre and La Reine Avoir - and inhabited by parts of speech. All the nouns have little playmates called un or une.

The scheme is divided into four parts, one for each year of key stage 2, but the first part can be used to start teaching French from any year of that stage.

Designed for use by any teacher, the scheme places the ability to communicate first. Elements of language are introduced in a logical sequence and each of the 15 units builds on what has been learnt before.

Thus the indefinite article (a) is introduced in Unit 1 and c'est in Unit 2. With those two building blocks, children can start to make sentences. Complex verbs are left until later.

Maria says: "I introduce myself in the most simple way, 'Je suis Maria' instead of 'Je m'appelle Maria'."

Je suis serves as a building block for phrases such as Je suis occupee (I am busy).

Rather than trying to get pupils to remember the gender of every single word, Maria goes for general rules - for instance, that most words ending with the letter "e" are feminine. There is time for the exceptions later.

And she encourages pupils to use memory tricks to remember words. The French verb cacher (to hide) sounds like cash in English, so pupils can remember it by imagining they are hiding their cash.

Or pupils can be encouraged to use the right preposition when talking about ball sports (such as je joue au football) by remembering that au sounds like "o" - which looks like a ball.

Maria is determined to dispel the notion that learning French is either hard or boring. "Anybody can learn a language, old or young," she says.

Hexagonie 1, containing worksheets, flash cards and a CD, is available from Brilliant Publications (www.brilliantpublications.co.ukLatest.htm), price pound;125. The introduction and Unit 1 can be downloaded free from the website.

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