Skip to main content

What's the philosophy behind frenchteacher.net?

I began uploading resources to frenchteacher.net back in 2002, having wanted to share some free resources and taught myself some html from a little book. In 2012 when I retired from the classroom I decided I wanted to continue writing resources, firstly because I enjoy it, secondly to help teachers and thirdly to make some money. (I think I have that order right, though I cannot be certain.)

The nature of the resources I produce is based on a view I hold about the nature of classroom second language learning, one which has evolved over the years and is based on some key moments and milestones of my career.

1. Closely observing my own teachers at secondary school. They were well versed in the oral-situational approach, most associated with the UK and in particular London University. Former teacher Alan Hornsey was a significant influence in this movement, which, as you may know, was a development of earlier direct methods from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The emphasis was on target language and questioning, with elements of translation and drilling.

2. Teaching some holiday EFL with Mary Glasgow when I was a university student (around 1979-81). This experience gave me some early insights into aspects of communicative methods, to which I was already receptive, having been taught through a largely oral approach. I learned the value of games and the information gap principle.

3. Doing my PGCE at London University, or more precisely the West London Institute of Higher Education, as it was then called. Somewhat by coincidence, my tutors reinforced the ideas I had already accumulated as a learner. I was taught in some detail how to run oral lessons using the question-answer approach and visual aids. Sometimes this was taken to extremes. I'll always remember a fellow trainee taking into his lesson an ironing board and iron just to teach "repasser".

Other aids of the time were also demonstrated to us, such as the table sand-pit and the flannel graph, both of which enabled the keen teacher to mover around characters and objects, while asking target language questions. Flash cards and blackboard drawing were de rigueur. Pair work and information gaps were considered a bit gimmicky.

4. Doing my two year part time MA at the Institute of Education in about 1985.

My main tutor was Alan Hornsey, but the key influence of this period was my reading of Stephen Krashen's hypotheses, about which I wrote a fairly detailed dissertation. This enabled me to delve into books and articles about second language acquisition. I was pre-disposed to find this interesting, compelling even (!), having done my BA at Reading University in French and Linguistics and having been taught by luminaries from the field of linguistics such as David Crystal, Peter Trudgill and David Wilkins.

Anyone who has read Krashen will know how elegantly simple and appealing his nativist views about second language acquisition are (in essence, we learn a language by understanding messages). Although I did not swallow Krashen whole, his views did reinforce my own feelings about the importance of comprehensible target language use in the classroom. My reading also gave me a clearer understanding of the history of language teaching and its shifting sands.

5. Retiring and starting to read and think again.

I was always a reflective language teacher but it's only been in retirement that I have been able to reengage with the literature to an extent, clarify my thoughts and share them with other teachers. In addition, I came across Gianfranco Conti's blogs which led us to start collaborating and writing. Gianfranco's emphasis, as you may know, is on language learning as skill development, rather than unconscious acquisition (the nativist tradition). I know he would say both strands are at work, of course. Working with Gianfranco has helped me reevaluate the importance of practice and repetition, though I have yet to be convinced about the value of translation. To me that seems to be something of occasional use in the classroom. It goes to show how we are influenced by our own prejudices.

Now this is where I piece these elements together to humbly offer my view about language teaching.

Being by nature a compromiser I tend to see language teaching as involving aspects of both skill acquisition and natural acquisition through comprehensible input. I see a role for input, some focus on grammatical form and communicative activity. If anything, I lean a bit towards to the natural end of the formal-natural (learning-acquisition) continuum. The oral-situation approach I encountered when young embodies this combination of strands so perhaps it's no surprise that this has been my main influence.

I have over time become less dogmatic about language teaching approaches and now feel that the quality of delivery and relationships as important as one's chosen methodology. That said, I continue to believe in the principles of comprehensible input, target language use, significant focus on form and, in the classroom context, the PPP approach to introducing new grammatical structures (even if I cannot easily support this from research).

So, to return to frenchteacher.net, you'll find that the main emphasis is on reading and listening input, communicative tasks, but with an emphasis both on comprehension and intensive input-output practice (to ensure recycling). In addition I have written many formal grammatical drills, translations and resources specific to the English and Welsh exam system. The latter is a choice I made to help teachers and sell subscriptions. If the exam system were not there I would not be publishing vocab lists, speaking booklets, so much translation or ready-made practice papers. The English and Welsh examination system imposes restrictions on me as well as on teachers and pupils.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…

Worried about the new GCSEs?

Twitter and MFL Facebook groups are replete with posts expressing concerns about the new GCSEs and, in particular, the difficulty of the exam, grades and tiers. I can only comment from a distance since I am no longer in the classroom, but I have been through a number of sea changes in assessment over the years so may have something useful to say.

Firstly, as far as general difficulty of papers is concerned, I think it’s fair to say that the new assessment is harder (not necessarily in terms of grades though). This is particularly evident in the writing tasks and speaking test. Although it will still be possible to work in some memorised material in these parts of the exam, there is no doubt that weaker candidates will have more problems coping with the greater requirement for unrehearsed language. Past experience working with average to very able students tells me some, even those with reasonable attainment, will flounder on the written questions in the heat of the moment. Others will…

GCSE and IGCSE revision links 2018

It's coming up to that time of year again. In England and Wales. Here is a handy list of some good interactive revision links for this level. These links are also good for intermediate exams in Scotland, Ireland and other English-speaking countries. You could copy and paste this to print off for students.

Don't forget the GCSE revision material on frenchteacher.net of course! How could you?

As far as apps for students are concerned, I would suggest the Cramit one, Memrise and Learn French which is pretty good for vocabulary. For Android devices try the Learn French Vocabulary Free. For listening, you could suggest Coffee Break French from Radio Lingua Network (iTunes podcasts).

Listening
http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/french/ (Foundation/Higher) http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/french/ (Foundation/Higher)
http://www.audio-lingua.eu/spip.php?rubrique1&lang=fr (Foundation/Higher) http://www.ashcombe.surrey.sch.uk/07-langcoll/MFL-resources/french/fr-video-index.shtml