I was talking to my 12 year old son Max, the other day about learning a language – I’m English and he’s French – wow that seems weird seeing that in print but it is true.
We were trying to speak English together – easy for me but not so for him nowadays – especially as he has entered the French éducation nationale programme which includes English lessons.
I spoke to him uniquely in English up to the age of about 7, where, when his brother started speaking we just abandoned speaking only in English as, well I don’t know why, we just did.
The point is that Max, although a very bright boy, has a certain creative streak in him that doesn’t always fit into the rigid framework of formal schooling – he likes to experiment and try things out and, ultimately find things out for himself – which, as you can imagine sometimes gets him into trouble.
I can still speak to him in normal speed, slang ridden English and he understands everything – he watches some Dvd’s and television programs in English too, without flinching and actually enjoys them.
That said he is not by any means a TV addict – he prefers to listen to or play music – which he does in English too (Nirvana & Green day being the latest repertoire ….).
So what is the problem? Well the problem is that although Max has better listening skills in English than his teacher – he has never really read anything in English, so the things that let him down are his spelling and his grammar.
He can hear words but not always represent them accurately on paper – for example “over there” becomes “over their”, “I think” becomes “I thing” etc.
The problem is that the English that kids learn at school, and he goes to a good school, in no way prepares the kids for second language communication in the outside world.
English lessons are spent examining things that I never experienced in my own language like examining all ‘labels’ for each and every function of grammar – great training for a linguist but not much use for working life outside of academia.
Then there is the killer blow – the need to be able to translate everything into French. Why?
Ostensibly, I imagine, that this is to ensure that the meaning is understood as a form of checking mechanism – but here they are preparing children in the most unsuitable ways for incomprehension at a later stage and the almost useless and fatiguing practice of translating whilst listening – VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO DO!
I see the results of this on a daily basis where people try to translate each word that flows out of the mouth of an English speaker only to realise that they JUST CAN’T do it in any effective manner.
Attempts are made to form a parallel between English and French tense forms ) – now that IS a difficult job.
Take for example the future tense which is a tense in French but only a form in English, we do not have a future tense, so what do we do here?
They say that language learning in schools is getting better – oh no it ain’t, not from where I’m standing!
People who I see in business settings who attempt, with varying levels of success, to improve their English communication skills always reassure me with a comforting voice that things have changed in school language learning – from my experience it has not!
Of course English mother tongue children could play about with the language as they will probably only use it to impress mum and dad during holidays to France – in France the reality is that if the level of English is not high enough they will NOT graduate from certain universities.
It really is that important.From what I have seen thus far, I cannot see much logic nor pragmatism in the way English is taught in school.Max’s brother, Etienne (yes another French boy in the family) is in the last year of primary school where he learns English through songs and games and he absolutely loves it – as max did when he learnt English in this way.
Max is fortunate in as much as he listens to English radio, news and some TV, if only passively and we do speak the odd word now and again – we even set contracts between us for example when we go skiing for the day, we will speak only English – it’s fun – ooh, now there’s a thing, fun in learning … that could be a good idea…
But there are children in his class who will never listen to English – how do they get on.
Listening in the class is reserved for listening for detail – which seems almost futile being as they have problems understanding globally – a bit upside-down in my eyes.
Well the simple answer to this is swimmingly in the French Education Nationale – but just up to the time where they will graduate from university – when they will have to be ready to pass with minimum points TOEIC or TOEFL – this is usually where parents have to shell out to send their kids to England or other anglophone countries to catch up on what has not been effectively accomplished.
I worked for a very brief time in the education Nationale with kids from 15 to 19 years old and I distinctly remember a time when, to help the kids remember and use numbers – which they didn’t know at that age!
So we set up some spelling and number games – battleships and bingo to get them using the language – only to be told by the director of the establishment that games had no place in learning in his opinion and this must stop!
I remained until the end of the month before resigning!
What he didn’t see was how the injection of fun and competition boosted the motivation and retention of the subject – but that was that.
Just to finish this mini rant – a shout into the desert, my son said, in English that he needed to buy some new closes – pardon?
In fact what he meant was “clothes”.
I asked him why he pronounced it like this and he said he pronounced it as I did, or as any other anglophone may, only to be corrected by his teacher – “Maxence – it is pronounced CLO//ZÎS” he was also corrected on favourite – which apparently should be pronounced “FAH -VOR-REET” according to his teacher.
Now this may seem very piffling and pedantic – perhaps it is, but I cannot see how people can hear, let alone understand, words spoken by an anglophone if their only reference is badly pronounced models given by a teacher who, quite frankly knows very little!
This is a tad ranty, so I ‘d juts like to say that I know there are some really great teachers out there who endeavour to do their best with what is available – are they in a minority as far as language learning goes?
Of that I’m not sure, but I hope not …
This does appear to give credence to the well-known saying, “We teach best what we most need to learn.”
[amazon_carousel widget_type=”ASINList” width=”600″ height=”200″ title=”” market_place=”” shuffle_products=”False” show_border=”False” asin=”1843981483,0077114701,0566088630,0273716204,0273704141,185788535X,0007151225,1845283325,0415473349,0205178669,1906610169,067162248X,0974097063,059652918X,1591396336″ /]