Critiques on social and education issues
As a child, I had almost 0 passion for French. It was not a beautiful language, and it was not a language of love (what 10 year old cared about “love”?), and I thought it had sounded very snobby to be speaking French.
French teachers were boring. We learned basic vocabulary: colours, weather, feelings, body parts, things in a house/school/bedroom/park, food items. We learned a little bit of grammar in grade school, such as when to use avoir and être.
In high school, we started to really hone in on the grammar, and my teacher made us do grammar drills. She’d say “Manger”, and we’d say “Mange, manges, mange, mangeons, mangez, mangent”. Forget pronouns, we had to save time!
I suppose we also did a little bit of literature analysis with some very short stories. One of my accomplishments from French class was that we had read an abridged version of Les Misérables in French. It was definitely worth it when I watched it in theatres last week.
Now that je peux parler en français un peu couramment, je commence à aimer le français. I started to wonder why I didn’t like it before. Then I knew.
French wasn’t a language; it was a subject in which memorization was key.
Teachers in elementary and high school focused so much on rules in French that they tended to drain the fun and beauty from the language. It was always “Remember to conjugate! Did you add the s?” or “What is the rule for VANDERTRAMP verbs?” or “Remember these 5 exceptions!”
There were so many rules to French as a subject that it was impossible to fall in love. Love doesn’t have rules. To enjoy something, you need to experience it. Memorizing and drilling the verb “vouloir” is not something that would let the learner savour the language.
French was, by the end of grade 9, merely a subject we had to to take and be good at so our report cards can be treated as trophies. Jump through the hoops of passé composé and les verbes auxiliaires, and you will have a nice, gleaming letter grade for your parents to see.
And then we reach grade 10.
Students in Ontario learn that French is an optional subject after finishing grade 9. That means we don’t need to take French anymore! And who would want to take more French after their experiences in elementary school? What, more rules? More exceptions? More weird words qu’on ne peut pas prononcer parce que one s is pronounced as “z”, but two s’s are pronounced as the actual “s”?
French is one of the nation’s 2 official languages. How can it be official and national if so few people know how to use it?
The Ministry of Education is saying, “French isn’t as important as English. You are required to take English for all 4 years of high school, but French? Nah, you can ditch it after first year.”
In a sense, that statement could be correct. In most provinces, you talk to your families in English (and your native language), your friends in English, your teachers in English, your subway worker in English, your mall shop owners in English. If you utter a word of French, they tell you to retourner à la France.
It really isn’t the students’ fault for disliking French. Ontario’s method of teaching French is very outdated, so outdated, in fact, that it goes back to the Sumerian times. Memorizing vocabulary and drilling grammar?
Because French teachers focus so much on rules, exceptions, and grammar, there is no room left to love the language. It’s merely become a process through which students memorize drills then receive a grade. Where is the sensuous experience? Where are the opportunities to practice French outside of French class, which lasts only 45 minutes?
The message that the Ministry of Education has been sending for the last few decades only adds salt to the wound. Making French optional in high school shows that English is more important because you need to take for all 4 years. And why not? It isn’t like we speak French anywhere else!
French teachers should try a new pedagogy. Let students watch a funny French episode, with French subtitles. Let them hear the language and relish it first. Let them fall in love first.
And then you can begin teaching about how grammar works and how vocabulary works without the drilling.