In 2003, I began my quest to learn the French language. At the time, I was teaching ESL at West Texas A&M University and wanted to identify and address the challenges that my students were having as they learned a second language. I chose the French language as I wanted to be able to communicate and navigate in Paris on an upcoming trip that I had planned with my two daughters.
West Texas A&M did not offer French courses, so I had to begin my journey with independent study. As a fervent grammarian, I wanted to begin my journey by exploring fundamental grammatical rules as well as the linguistic components of French.
I chose the Revised French Grammar (1901; revised 1942) edition by Fraser, Squair and Parker for several reasons: it had been given to me by a retired French Professor complete with her annotations in the margins, it uses the traditionally prescribed French of The Académie française , and I love old books!
This revised edition supplements the rules of grammar with exercises in oral work, translation from French to English and from English to French, and connected prose. There are supplementary readings which stress cognates, reading for content, cultural materials as well as classic illustrations of Paris at the turn of the century! The only disadvantage of using this text is that the answers to the exercises and translations were not included to check for accuracy and mastery. However, this actually forced me to read back through the chapters to correct my own errors which was a good reinforcement exercise. Even today, I still use the communicative exercises and supplemental readings of French classics from this text in my university French Language courses.
Of course, not all scholars feel that grammar should be stressed in second language acquisition. Richards & Renandya state that “before the early 1970’s, grammar was an ‘essential part of learning’. However, it was challenged as to its ‘communicative competence’, therefore became obsolete or ignored in most curriculums. As a result, reading scores in the United States plummeted and students who entered high school could not read or spell (Unit 3).
In the text Methodology in Language Teaching, Swan points out that there are several “wrong” reasons for teaching grammar in second language acquisiton “some teachers get a kick from knowing more than one’s students, from being the authority, from always being right”. I could definitely see where this could become a reality if an instructor did not keep things in perspective. One the other hand, Swan states two good reasons for teaching grammar: “comprehensibility and acceptability”. Grammar is needed to build the structures that make it possible to communicate. Poor grammar usage among a second language speaker can “hinder integration and excite prejudice-a person who speaks ‘badly’ may not be taken seriously” (Section 7).
As with any language program, it is important to have a balance of teaching strategies. Grammar lessons should be integrated into writing, reading, speaking and listening activities. They should also be combined with communicative activities to allow students to put these lessons into pragmatic practice in order to help master their second language.
Consequently, in addition to intensive daily study of French grammar I included the following: 1) a Living Language communicative workbook of common phrases and contemporary vocabulary which included CDs for listening practice 2) Conversational French several times a week with a native French speaker, Ouapo, who happened to be one of my students! 3) Listening to La March de l’Histoire Podcasts on FranceInter to work fluency and 4) Extensive Reading of French literature in my interest of 19th century France.
While applying this strategies to learn a second language, I began to test them on my ESL university students. Much to their delight, I began to cut back on some lengthy essays and writing exercises, which I had assigned them earlier in the semester, as I realized the level of difficulty myself of even trying to write a simple paragraph in a second language! ( I hereby apologize to my former students for the torturous exercises that I gave you).
In order to promote language and cultural learning, I also began to use a variety of supplemental visual aids such as videos and power point presentations, which combine language, art, history and culture of English speaking countries.
I am in my thirteenth year of learning the French language. In that time, I have obtained a Interdisciplinary Masters degree in French and Applied Linguistics from University of Texas, El Paso, which included a semester Internship at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, and am now teaching French Language courses for Howard Payne University.
To continue with my personal study of the language: 1) I use a French translation of the Bible, La Sainte Bible, and am translating the book of Marc into English, 2) I try to read a French novel once a month, 3) conjugate French verbs on a regular basis, 3) Audit French courses at UTEP when possible, 4) Write blogs about French History and Culture (see My History Review of France and L’Histoire d’Art Francais posts on this blog) and most importantly, 5) Travel to France as often as I can to practice my French and introduce my family and friends to this lovely language and culture!!!
Fraser, W.H., Squair, J, and Parker, C.S.(1942) Revised French Grammar. Boston: Heath & Co.
Richards, J.C. & Renandya, W.A. (2002). Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Copyright 2016 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
- On Extensive Reading: https://frenchquest.com/2012/08/28/a-case-for-extensive-reading/
- On Second Language Acquisition: https://frenchquest.com/2012/11/15/my-parisian-journey-week-8/