ARE YOU NEW TO FRENCH?
Are you going into secondary school in September and taking French?
In 2016 over 31,000 students sat the Junior Cert French exam. So in any one year there are approximately 30,000 students meeting French as a subject for the first time. Whenever I go into a first year class, I explain to the students that they are all starting from the same place, as very few will have been exposed to formally learning French up to this point.
However the way that French is delivered as a subject must change, and the new syllabus for Modern Foreign Languages has gone a long way to making language learning more accessible.
According to the new Junior Cycle framework, language learning must be accessible to all students as it “contributes to their cognitive, personal and social growth”. In fact, “learning foreign languages were among the eight key competences for lifelong learning identified by the European Union and European Council in 2006”.
I have a separate document on my blog entitled ‘Learning Outcomes for Students’. However what it all boils down to is that, students will be given an opportunity to engage with a living language and be introduced to a different culture and way of thinking. Language learning must hinge on a student’s enjoyment of the subject and must be age-appropriate. I have always sought to start from where the learner is at, their experience of life to-date and their expectations. While it is vital that a student learns how to correctly express themselves in the different tenses, it is equally important that examples used are relevant to them. I may not necessarily know who Ed Sheeran is, but I appreciate that putting a photo of Ed Sheeran on the board will elicit more from a student than Frank Sinatra!
Engagement of the student is critical to making language learning a success in the classroom. We can waffle on about expectations and all of our key skills, but at the end of the day, students don’t really care about what the European Union expects of them; they just want to get through 40 minutes of French without falling asleep! I believe that the new programme is really relevant and full of interesting and worthy aspirations, but if we are not talking a teenager’s language, it won’t work.
Most teenagers nowadays are on 3 main social media platforms:
Many parents are right to be wary of social media as they are often unsure about the content being shared by adults, with a teenage audience. I have Snapchat, instagram and facebook accounts where I do a little bit of French every day, and because it is bite-sized, kids really interact with it. However I also follow a strict code of ethics, and my content is completely age-appropriate. In fact, if a parent is watching my stories, I welcome this, as they can see, that all my social media accounts follow and adhere to a strict child protection policy.
At the end of the day, parents entrust the care of their children to teachers for a large proportion of the week, and it is the duty and vocation of the teacher to educate and value each child. While we are not going to be meeting students in a social context, it is important to realise that great teaching involves social interaction. However, it is the duty of the teacher to set boundaries from the beginning, and while making language learning as enjoyable as possible, it is also extremely important to set high expectations from the start.
Language learning is just what it says; learning! A lot of students go home and just because they don’t have written work feel that they actually don’t have homework. As a parent, you must ensure that your child takes out their French book or copy every single evening and go over words that they have covered in class. Repetition is the only way that language will stick in a student’s head! After their formal homework is completed, I see nothing wrong with spending a few minutes every day watching Snapchat stories, which are designed to reinforce learning. However, social media is just one element of learning, and any accounts telling you differently are wrong!