The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

Why Students Hate French

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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.

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12 comments on “Why Students Hate French

  1. Bonnie Hundley
    May 6, 2015

    My teachers had us perform a stage play entirely in French. That’s one way to learn this stuff. We also watched plenty of movies utilizing the French language tracks. We were asked questions about the movie which needed to be answered in French. Class communication was penned entirely in French. I liked this immersion. C’était facile. We also role played that we were UN members every week, all in French. Lots of fun.

    Okay, drills? Vous avez à la pratique. Isn’t it the same if you learn to play a musical instrument? Its kind of like that. You just have to practice.

    Need humor? Please look up Pepe Le Pew.

    Hmmm, yes, English is the world’s language. Point taken. But, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish are spoken over more of the world’s population + geographic area. But, English stretches across the whole planet. English is the language for global business.

    The only reason you had to learn French in Ontario is because a bunch of people want to preserve the culture. Its an identifying feature there. In France, they’re adamant about preserving their language/culture. Other places do the same. I think that’s what dictates what kids learn in Social Studies courses.

    Really really important languages are those having to do with computer coding. Just making note of this. Without those very important languages, technology would remain in the Dark Ages.

    Au revoir pour le moment.

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      June 5, 2015

      Oui je suis en accord. Je sais qu’on veut proteger la culture française, alors c’est la raison pour laquelle on l’apprend. J’enseigne le français de base, et j’ai utilisé des pièces de AIM pour l’apprentissage du français. Les élèves se sont amusés cette année.

  2. Chris
    October 27, 2014

    “They’ll tell you to retourner à la France.”
    I think you mean retourner ‘en’ France.

    Ultimately, it comes down to knowing one’s grammar, syntax and vocabulary. One cannot possibly hope to construct even a quasi-coherent sentence if the integral structures inherent in a language such as French are not clearly understood.

    The current system has worked for decades- perhaps even for centuries- and will invariably remain popular in a world where the ability to speak a language other than English is looked upon with derision.

    The real issue here pertains to the style in which French (as with a number of other languages) is taught at school. If one consults the relevant syllabi, one will discover that taught French usually deals with everyday life at its most banal: children get up in the morning, go to school, chat about music and jouent au ping-pong.
    Furthermore, rather than simply assuming that a student is familiar with the terms “antecedent”, “relative pronoun”, “participle” or simply even basic terminology such as “subject”, “verb” and “object”, I would argue that the teacher should always clarify what these terms actually mean, and how they relate to the overall grammatical conventions of the language. Students will only lose interest if they decide that language learning is no longer ‘interesting’, or if they have lost track, and failed to understand vital concepts that are usually pertinent to grammar.

    In summary, the only change that should be made concerns the style of teaching French. The teacher should have a thorough understanding of French grammar and syntax and explain relevant concepts to their students in an intelligible manner. It’s equally as important for teachers to “shake things up” in class.

    Avoid overly depending upon textbooks. Draw from your own knowledge of the language. Don’t assume your students are grammarians. Lastly, show them that this is indeed a rich language that is widely spoken around the world, and there benefits associated with knowing a second language are aplenty.

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      June 5, 2015

      The new curriculum now targets speaking and listening abilities, and grammar is not at all mentioned in save maybe one bullet for it. The main idea is that elementary teachers nurture students’ interest and confidence in communicating in French, then grammar kicks in in the later years.

  3. Paul
    September 14, 2014

    I hate French so much :(

  4. Kat
    May 26, 2014

    I hate my french class soooooooo much. My teacher is a native speaker and was born in France. You’d think that this would make her fun and interesting, right? WRONG! All she does is drill us on grammar, and you can’t even understand what she’s saying half the time. She just expects you to automatically know the language as if you’ve already lived in France for years. As a matter of fact, I’m procrastinating right now so that I don’t have to study for my french oral final in her class tomorrow, that she told us about 3 DAYS AGO! We should not be expected to write and memorize 30 sentences in a language that we hardly know, and then repeat it back to her, in only 3 days. You’ve got to be kidding me. She’s totally turned me off to he french language. I don’t even want to go to France anymore. If I hear another french accent in the next 5 years…I’m just so done. I know not all french people are awful, cruel, soulless people, and that most are friendly and completely normal, and that I’m just unlucky to have gotten stuck with the one person I’d be fine with having deported.. Just sayin’…I’m done ranting now..That felt good.

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      June 5, 2015

      That’s so unfortunate. :( The French curriculum got updated, and it completely shifts its focus from grammar/writing to speaking/listening. That oral exam doesn’t even sound like it tests your oral abilities.

  5. Niel
    November 17, 2013

    i totally agree with your post. It becomes more of a chore than a passion to learn the teachers way. It does drain the fun out your totally right.
    I remember my French class in highschool id always ditch it because 1)afraid of the public conversation with another classmate infront of the class and 2)the teacher was just like how you described. But now, yearssss later and im 26 now, developed an interest in learning French and just bought my first French book to learn from. I looked at some French basics online also and watched French interviews on youtube by Cyril raffaeli and david belle, and must say it sounds better than I thought it did.
    Some things are better learnt on your own.

  6. Terri
    April 22, 2013

    I’ve been using a different pedagogy for almost 9 years. Are there still students who hate French? Some…since they won’t participate. But overall I have seen a huge improvement in student ability and comprehension. I’ve seen students as young as grade 2 decide they are not doing French. Where does that attitude come from at such a young age? But the ones who embrace the program gain in leaps and bounds. I teach grades 2 to 6. Our focus is oral French…literature..
    limited grammar, usually taught in context. I try to make it fun, though I’m not always successful. I have students who cheer when I enter the classroom and groan when I leave. French isn’t all bad.
    I do agree though that governing factions can make or break the program by giving the impression that French is unimportant.

    • Average Student
      March 5, 2015

      As long as you do not make them do projects then you are a good teacher.

      • The Grumpy Giraffe
        June 5, 2015

        What’s wrong with projects? My students enjoy projects much more than tests. I use various methods of assessments (checklists, projects, quizzes, tests, presentations, songs, etc.).

        What is it about projects you dislike? Group work? The amount of work to complete it?

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This entry was posted on January 4, 2013 by in education, languages, school, teaching and tagged , , , , , , , .

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