Wednesday, May 25, 2011


As I've mentioned before, I decided when my kids were born that they needed to be fluent French speakers. Firstly, it was paramount because their family in France don't speak any English but also French is a big part of who I am so it seemed only natural to speak to them in French from birth. Either they'd grow up to love it like me, or they'd at least have a working knowledge that wouldn't do them any harm in life. With their father working long hours, I felt leaving him to speak to them in French would not suffice, so picking up the odd error or strange pronunciation from me was better than giving up!
Obviously things changed a little when we divorced but it was the man I fell out of love with, not the language or the culture, so my quest continued, and even the two half Danish children weren't going to be left out of my French programme!
Last week, at the ripe old age of 13 Marcel sat his Intermediate 2 exam. School doesn't have the money to give him his own member of staff, so the French assistant and I have spent the last six weeks teaching him. Since the first week of first year Marcel has not participated in French classes because they were deemed irrelevant to him after a French member of staff interviewed him on my request.
So I downloaded a few past papers to familiarize myself with the exam format. It was called an 'O' grade in my day so I wanted to see what it was like. The first thing that struck me was the speed at which the listening comprehension is read. I have never heard a French (or Belgian, Swiss or Canadian person) speak at that speed. Suddenly it came back to me - I had never been to France when I started to learn French. I went to le Lavandou when I was 13 and nearly fell over when I heard the speed real people spoke. It terrified me! I then listened to the Credit level Standard Grade past papers to see if they were more ambitious, but they were even worse as they broke the information up into bite-sized chunks just to make sure no one could miss anything! I assumed they would maybe pick up the pace for Higher at least but when I listened in to that it was maybe 5% faster.
What is the point in making it artificially easy? Is the point of learning a language in Scotland to pass the exam or to be able to converse with the natives? Why have we lost the focus? Listen to Scandinavians, Dutch and the likes - they don't expect their kids to be mediocre at English, so why do we expect ours to be mediocre at French? I also noticed that only standard French was on offer - in one past paper a man claimed to be from Martinique, in another someone claimed to be Belgian and Canadian but again all the accents were exactly the same. This might help the kids pass but it doesn't help anyone grasp the realities of real French. If I was in charge, they'd not be sitting anything until they were at least capable of understanding le journal de 20h.
Needless to say when I start teaching Marcel Higher next month, we'll be focussing on real French.
Ok, rant over...

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