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Parallel reading for near beginners

I have begun working on some parallel French-English reading texts with exercises for primary children or Year 7s (first year of high school). I have in mind the new compulsory primary languages policy beginning in September, along with ways of getting younger learners to read longer chunks of language in a painless way.

If I were using them myself I would prepare the ground with some general discussion about the topic, read the story aloud as children follow the French, then read it as children follow the English. Some simple phonics work could follow, then children could try the exercises.

Short texts I have written so far are: mon chien, ma maison, les planètes, ma famille,  Cendrillon, devenir vétérinaire, petit poème sur la famille, asking directions, the boy who cried wolf, a weather forecast, dolphins, spiders, mon ami and Brazil.

I am not so familiar with primary school methodologies, so I would welcome any comment on this type of exercise. I am posting an example below, although in the printed version a child would see an A4 sheet in landscape with the French text on the left and the English on the right. The exercises I have used so far are "which sentences are true?", true/false/not mentioned, vocab list completion and short paragraph writing. I have also suggested, in some pieces, that children highlight cognate words.

Here is the one about meerkats.

Le suricate mesure de 26 à 38 centimètres. Il mange des insectes, des souris, des rats, des oiseaux, des petits reptiles et des bulbes de plantes.

Le suricate habite en colonies de vingt membres environ, dans les plaines d'Afrique du sud. La mère suricate produit entre 2 et 7 bébés.

Pour chercher la nourriture, les suricates creusent le sol avec leurs griffes. Alors ils ont la tête dans le sable et des sentinelles veillent sur le groupe. Ils se dressent sur les pattes arrière pour avoir une bonne vue et ils communiquent par cris pour alerter le groupe des dangers potentiels.

Quand les jeunes ont moins de trois semaines, des individus du groupe restent avec eux au terrier pendant toute la journée. Ces babysitters, qui ne sont pas nécessairement parents des jeunes, ne mangent pas et surveillent le terrier et les jeunes.

Le suricate est brun-gris. Il a une queue très agile qui agit comme une cinquième patte et il a une vue exceptionnelle.

Les suricates sont immunisés à une grande variété de poisons, des morsures de serpents aux piqûres de scorpions.

Il fait très chaud dans le désert du Kalahari, alors les parents recouvrent leurs petits de sable pour les protéger du soleil.

The meerkat is between 26 and 38 centimetres  long. It eats insects, mice, rats, birds, small reptiles and plant bulbs.
The meerkat lives in colonies of roughly twenty members, in the plains of South Africa. The mother meerkat produces litters of between 2 and 7 young.
To find food meerkats dig into the earth with their claws. Therefore they have their heads in the sand and sentinels watch out for the group. They sit up on their back legs to get a good view and they communicate with cries to warn the group about potential danger.
When the young are less than three weeks old, individuals from the group stay with them at the burrow the whole day long. These babysitters, who are not necessarily the parents of the young ones, do not eat and watch over the burrow and the young.
The meerkat is browny-grey. It has a very agile tail which acts as a fifth leg and it has excellent vision.
Meerkats are immune to a large variety of venoms, snake bites and scorpion bites.
It is very hot in the Kalahari desert, so the parents cover their little ones with sand to protect them from the sun.

Which of these French statements are true about meerkats?
1.            Ils mangent des insectes et des rats.
2.            Ils mangent des fleurs.
3.            Ils préfèrent habiter individuellement.
4.            Ils habitent en colonies de 20 approximativement.
5.            Les mères font des litières de 2 à 7 bébés.
6.            Ils trouvent la nourriture dans les arbres.
7.            Des sentinelles protègent le groupe contre des dangers.
 8.           Ils communiquent entre eux par cris.
9.            Le suricate est de couleur noir.
10.          Le suricate a cinq pattes et une queue.
 11.         Ils sont immunisés au poison des serpents.
12.          Il fait très froid dans le désert kalahari.

Now complete this list of words from the article
French                                                  English
souris                                                    ___________

nourriture                                               ___________

creuser                                                 to _________

griffes                                                   ___________

sable                                                     ___________

pattes                                                   ___________

terrier                                                   ___________

journée                                                 ___________

jeunes                                                  ___________

serpent                                                 ___________

piqûre                                                  ___________

Finally, highlight in the original French text any words you could have guessed the meaning of without looking them up. These are called COGNATES and make French a relatively easy language to learn for English speakers.


  1. Thanks for posting. I think it's great! However my instinct would be to get the children to follow in English first then in French so that when they follow in French more of the meaning comes through in the tl. What do you think are the advantages of doing it the other way round?

  2. I think both approaches would be fine. On a landscape sheet you could fold it in half and get students to follow either the TL or English version first. Or just let them scan across as you read the TL. Students could also follow either text with a finger as you read slowly or use a ruler and move it down line by line for a bit more physical involvement. Thanks for leaving a comment.


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