Les Simpsons

9th May 2008 at 01:00
How that dysfunctional cartoon family is teaching French. Marian Jones translates

How that dysfunctional cartoon family is teaching French. Marian Jones translates



"Bonjour la classe." The answering chorus of "Bonjour Frederique!" proves the Year 34 class at Wellsprings Primary School in Taunton, Somerset, knows the routine for their weekly language lesson with a French assistant.

Frederique leads them cheerfully through updating "mon calendrier", revising numbers and a game of noughts and crosses - and then on to today's new topic: family.

Quite a few pupils sing along to the introductory song from Early Start French, having heard it just once. A short cartoon introduces the key words - mere, pere, frere, soeur - which are practised using The Simpsons picture cards, which pupils hold up whenever "their" word comes up in the song. The session finishes with a short review.

Frederique, 24, is one of three French assistants working in Somerset primaries this year. Each serves three schools for four hours a week, funded by Somerset's primary modern foreign languages (MFL) budget, with the freedom to work extra hours paid by the school.

Frederique sees every class from Years 1 to 6, supervised by the class teacher, but basically providing their main weekly French lesson. In other schools, she also does small group work. Catherine Clancy is a Year 4 class teacher at Wellsprings and Frederique's mentor. "She brings a French influence to the school," says Catherine.

"Even the smallest children greet her in French in the corridor and begin to understand about other languages." She helps the staff too, especially those who didn't take their own language studies very far, by creating materials for them. She also takes lunchtime sessions in rhythmic gymnastics at Wellsprings and an after-school French club at another school where activities have included petanque and cake-baking.

Statistics show there are 550 primary schools in the UK using foreign language assistants, more than double the figure for the 2005-06 school year.

Christa Kernick of the British Council says they expect this trend to continue. Although more than two-thirds of the 328 assistants are French, languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Italian are also covered.

Marian Jones is a part-time teacher and textbook writer.

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