Learning French with authentic resources

Click on image to access lesson plans
Click on image to access lesson plans

My French journey continues! After adapting the first two units of my Level 1 curriculum into French with translations from Julia Ullman and help from Karen Oberlander and Megan Murphy late last year, I finally sat down this week to work on Unit 3. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long! I just read a suggestion from Terry Waltz in TPRS with Chinese Characteristics to keep learning new languages so that you always know what it feels like to be a beginner in a language class. It is so true! As I work through the work that Julia has done and try to add in my own French pieces (readings and what-not), it hits me over and over, “MAN! [x] is so helpful! This is really working!” or “MAN! [x] is not helping me at all!”.

Case in point: authentic resources (#authres). In Unit 3 of the Spanish curriculum, students work with the song “El Reloj” by Linda Ronstadt. Since you obviously can’t just translate a song into another language to use it in the unit, I set off to find a good song for Unit 3 of the French curriculum. I found “Ouvre les yeux” by Marie-Mai, and I decided to include it because I like the song and because I could follow along with the lyrics even though I couldn’t understand them. I could work with it!

First, I wrote a biography in French about Marie-Mai. Yes, I wrote it by myself and it’s in French! (Karen checked it for me and found some errors, of course!) I know that it’s comprehensible to beginning students because I am a beginning student! AND I WROTE IT! (I’m a little excited. It’s really exciting to learn a new language!) The students can read the biography along with their teacher, who can maximize the input by circling target structures and personalizing the content. This is a great intro to the #authres, but students aren’t yet working with the #authres itself, which I want them to do because…well…that’s the fun part!

I just wrote a post about all kinds of different ways that you can use a song in class. Chris Stolz, genius and skeptic that he is, made a comment on Twitter that many of the things on the list weren’t CI. (This is one of the things that I love about Chris! He will always challenge me to make sure that I’ve considered whether what I’m doing is really best practice or not!)

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So I was thinking about Chris’s comment as I was listening to Ouvre les yeux over…and over…and over…and trying to figure out which activity or activities from the list I should use in this unit. And what I concluded was that it is extremely helpful for me to do anything that forced me to read the lyrics as I listened to the song: no matter what that is. Now, except for auditory input from the audio book Brandon Brown veut un chien, I am learning French only by reading, so I still have no idea how many of the words sound. Students would not be in such dire straits because they’d be receiving auditory input from the teacher, but I still think that my reflections would be applicable to them. Initially, I thought that I’d have students gesture every time that they heard “Ouvre les yeux” in the song. That’s fine and dandy, but since I’m preparing the song for French students in the first month of the year, everything else in the song would be incomprehensible garble: students would not only be unable to understand the meaning of the lyrics, but most likely would be unable to differentiate where one word ends and another begins. So, yes, students would hear a bunch of probably-comprehensible repetitions of “ouvre les yeux”, but the rest of the time spent listening to the song would be a total waste.

Well, there’s always good ol’ CLOZE lyrics, and ‘lame’ though this go-to song activity may be, I found it extremely helpful because it forced me to track the lyrics. I had to match the sounds in the song with the words that I was reading on the paper. And I found myself singing along by the end of the first listen-through! So I *cringe* did CLOZE lyrics. I chose to pull out any expressions that have to do with time, since one of the target structures is “il est (huit) heures” (it’s (8) o’clock). Many of them appear in footnotes in readings throughout the unit, so it was a good chance to highlight them. The teacher can combine them with the target structures to ask personalized questions and generate quality comprehensible input. The song itself is not CI, but the background reading and the resulting discussion is, so I can justify spending 7 minutes playing the song twice in class.

But once the CLOZE lyrics are done, then what? I like to continue to play the song throughout the unit, but it is still incomprehensible to students. I always project song lyrics when my students listen to songs that we’ve learned before in class so that they can follow along, but it’s difficult to “make” them do so. Since I’ve chosen to not make the entire song comprehensible to students, the reason that I want them to follow along is to continue matching sounds to words, since that is so valuable to me in my French journey! I decided to be a task master and force them to follow along by giving them a second lyrics activity to complete on another day in the unit. This time, I made a lyrics sheet with complete lyrics MINUS every instance of “ouvre les yeux”. Anytime students hear it, they must write a symbol on the lyrics page wherever it should have been written (it could be a sketch of a pair of eyes, the letter “O”, anything). This is similar to gesturing anytime they hear the target phrase, but it forces them to read the lyrics as well.

As I continued to read and re-read the lyrics while listening to the song over and over and over, I identified new cognates and words that I have seen before on each listen-through. Without working with a translation, I was making more and more sense of the lyrics. They were still incomprehensible input, to be certain, but I was excited about what I was able to extract. And now I have memorized not only “ouvre les yeux” and its correct pronunciation, but I’ve also memorized the entire chorus and pronunciation! I did eventually look up a translation of the chorus, and after tons of listen-throughs (repetitions), I have those structures down, too! I am excited to work on the French adaptation of the unit “Buscando un animal doméstico“, because I know that the word “cherches” is going to appear in it and I’ll be able pull out even more meaning from this song when we revisit it at that time!

Alright, so in summary:

  1. Authentic auditory input is important to help language learners learn correct pronunciation, especially when they are learning the language without auditory input from a teacher. Choose song activities that force students to read the lyrics while listening in order to help them in this area!
  2. It is difficult and probably not worth the time to make most songs entirely comprehensible to Novice learners. Instead, make the “sandwich” activities (before and after activities; “Introduce” and “Investigate” phases) comprehensible and keep the actual Interact activity short and to the point.
  3. With teacher guidance (or the help of Google translate when student is without a teacher, poor me!), ever greater portions of the lyrics will become comprehensible to students as they continue to revisit them throughout the unit and school year. Recycle your songs!

Am I crazy? Spending too much time on #authres and not enough on CI? Discuss.

9 comments

  1. I shall discuss later but for now I have a proposal: I am not going to be working for a few months. Do you need (free) help to create your French units? Would love to help AND selfishly I could use them when I return to work next year! I am free as of mid November.

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  2. So glad you are adding to your french curriculum. I’ve been TPRS for 11 years, but after a while the stories in blaine and susie’s books get old to my brain and I find it hard to be creative year after year…I teach TOO FAST because the stories are so familiar to me, I’m on auto-pilot. I started THIS year with my 7th graders using your materials and I was just lamenting that I didn’t know if I was going to use the materials I ordered from amy cantina or if I was going to try and make my own. I was soooo hoping for a little more french from you so I could delay my decision and POOF! Yeay!

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  3. Thanks a million for the French work! I love your blog and pull a couple new ideas every week it seems. You help me be a better teacher.

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