Videos en francais
A group of wacky Parisian neighbours brings a programme of soapy fun to French lessons, says Richard Marsden.
There is such a lack of good foreign language video material for upper primary and lower secondary pupils that these lively and entertaining programmes will be warmly welcomed. They follow the exploits of a group of people who live in an apartment block, and cover topics that are frequently encountered by young learners - greetings, members of the family, pets, food, weather.
On first viewing, non-specialists may feel that the language is much too complex and that the characters reinforce worn stereotypes (the old woman is forgetful, the inventor is eccentric, the concierge is a cantankerous old battle-axe, in fact anyone who is French is completely crazy) - and you may wonder how your planning can possibly be effective when the teacher's guide lacks an adequate transcript.
This is to miss the point, however. These are not listening comprehension tests, they are not meant to be used with worksheets that the pupils slavishly fill in as they watch (in case they start to enjoy themselves too much and forget that they are there to work). Instead, they serve to lead into and reinforce a variety of lively language learning activities: "You are learning a language; here you can see it being used by real people; isn't it fun!" The audience is encouraged to make things, bake things, draw, cut out, copy, sing, compose raps - and they see the characters on the screen doing the same things. The children won't understand every word, but their attention will be held, and they will feel they are understanding because the visual images are bold and clear. They will derive great pleasure from watching a "real" rench programme. They will enjoy the characters' antics and their little jokes:
"Toc, toc, toc. Qui est la?" "Annie."
"Annie qui?" "Anniversaire!" True, the characters tend to be overdrawn, some would even say dysfunctional, but they definitely have a foreign feel, and they draw the children into their world so that the foreign culture is something that is experienced rather than being explicitly taught.
The presence of Gerard, Madame Mimi's son, whom we never actually meet but with whom she has many conversations on the telephone, is a particularly good means of holding the children's imagination.
The teacher's guide provides ideas for activities before, during, and after viewing, and gives details of the content of each programme and the topics that are covered. It is therefore easy to incorporate these materials into any scheme of work or lesson plan, whatever your own level of competence in French.
The package also includes clear and well-drawn photocopy master pages which provide the children with the opportunity to practise using the words and phrases that they encounter in the programmes.
A particularly attractive feature is the optional pupil's workbook, a colourful and enticing 44 pages. There are word games, puzzles, jokes, poems, recipes, songs, pictures to colour in, and a full French-to-English glossary that will be welcomed by the non-specialist teacher. The book can be used with or without the video programmes and provides material for pupils to use at home or in out-of-hours clubs.
A parallel German series, Hennings Haus, is also available. If it lives up to the promise of its French counterpart it deserves to be widely used.
Channel 4 is to be congratulated on producing video materials that will have such a wide appeal to today's pupils.
Richard Marsden is an independent advisory teacher and writer