Marie Fillion is author of the award winning The Easy French curriculum, and a native French speaker from Canada. She is the homeschooling mother of four, and has spent countless hours researching how best to teach young learners a foreign language! LoveToKnow French is grateful to have her come share her expertise with our readers.
"The Easy French" Method of Learning a Foreign Language
LTK:You've written an entire French curriculum for school aged students. Tell us about some of your research and what you've found to be the most effective means of teaching French to kids.
Marie: One of the principles that I wanted to keep in mind while writing this program was that is it based on research and not just on what others are doing or what I feel like is best. Some of the theory I used was based on the work of Francois Gouin. Charlotte Mason recommended using his techniques for learning a foreign language. The underlying principles are as follows:
- Start by teaching the most frequent words of the language first and let the student absorb the sounds before we ask them to spell any foreign words.
- The vocabulary is used often and in context, thus the student learns it without the stress of having to memorize its' spelling.
- We learn the phonograms and language rules before we ask a student to spell any words. This allows the student to learn the patterns of the language and therefore, spelling comes much more naturally.
- Vocabulary is presented through a story. Learning a language within a story signals the brain that the foreign sounds being heard are language and not just background noise. The stories also cause the student to think about the words intensely, thus satisfying another of Dr. Gouin's requirements in what he termed "Language Series". Language Series also contained words that are the most familiar to the student. Listening to stories about families that have similar interests to the student also helps with interest and ultimately learning the language. It all fits together very nicely. (You can read more about this research at The Easy French.
LTK: Do you find that there are "stages" that a foreign language learner goes through? How do you get from "learning vocab" to "thinking in French?"
Marie: Working in the target language, as opposed to translating word for word, is exactly what learners should be doing. One of the reasons why we (The Easy French) teach the language within a story is to understand when to use particular words. If vocabulary is simply memorized from the start, the connections in the brain are not strong enough and the words are lost more quickly. Laying a solid foundation is so important and ensures that the student will enjoy French more and even more importantly, learning will be easier.
French Teaching Tips for Parents
LTK: What advice would you give to parents who want to incorporate the language into their children's daily lives and/or make it easier for their children to learn?
Marie: There are several things parents can do to help children learn:
- Relax and have fun with the language. The goal is not rote memorization of vocabulary. Extra curricular activities (like those that are in "The Easy French") help make learning interesting and more fun.
- Have the foreign language on in your home. For instance, view a favorite movie in French with the French sub-titles. Putting on the English sub-titles accesses different parts of your brain and does not help in learning. If you have already listened to the movie in English, the comprehension is already there. Sit back and enjoy.
- Remember that a big part of learning a language is found in understanding how the people group thinks and reacts in different situations. Culture is huge in being able to communicate with someone. Find out what is important in French culture. How does French life differ from your own?
- Use living books and songs. Listening to songs that are authentically French (as opposed to translated) and stories that are French helps improve children's language skills.
- Another idea is to use post it notes to put on different items in the house. This can be a very fun way to learn a language.
Learning to Speak a Second (or Third) Language
LTK: How is learning a second language comparable with learning the first?
Marie: If you think about how we learn our first language, you will realize that we experience and hear the words for almost two years before we speak. Spelling is not the first thing we do. Granted we are talking about babies in their limited linguistic abilities, but I think the natural way we learn our first language, should tell us something about how we should go about learning a second language.
I have always found it funny that homeschoolers are very strong on teaching our children phonics to learn to read the first language, but then turn to a whole language philosophy for the second language. To me this does not make sense. Again, if we look at how we teach our children how to read and spell-we do phonics first. Why do we turn it around on them with a foreign language? No wonder so many students get frustrated! They must learn their phonics (phonograms) and phonemic awareness (basic sounds of the language) before we ask them to spell words. Once this foundation is laid then spelling and learning new vocabulary is so much easier. When you add the learning of their spelling, pronunciation and language rules we again give them the tools to be able to know how to pronounce, read and spell.
LTK: In so many other countries, students learn more than one foreign language at once. What tips do you have for those wanting to study French and another language as well?
Marie: I suggest that if your children are hearing both languages all the time in the house, they can handle learning their phonograms concurrently. If they are not, then you can start a third language after about six months of the second. One of the biggest helps for the student is when programs like mine offer lots of culture so that the vocabulary isn't confusing. I think it would be a disaster if we loaded them up with vocabulary from multiple languages all at once.
Students in Europe learn a minimum of three languages. I have examined the school system from France. Children are exposed to English, German and Italian from a young age. Starting in about fifth grade, they are taught English and either German or Italian in a more formal way. I think starting early is important, but also experiencing the language in multiple modalities is vital.
More Information on The Easy French Curriculum
The Easy French is an award winning homeschooling curriculum. However, it can easily be used by anyone who wants to teach their children French. Make sure to look for Marie's curriculum:
If you are interested in finding out more information about "The Easy Hebrew" you can contact Marie through her website.