I’ve been teaching French as a foreign language to young children for 16 years now.
It’s extremely enjoyable and we have lots of fun but it isn’t, by any means, an easy task. Being able to engage children constantly in different languages activities that will ‘speak’ to them personally – taking into account their various background, evolving interests, different communication styles… can be very challenging.
One thing remains: there isn’t a day that doesn’t fill me with pride by just hearing how confident some of our little linguists can be and how excited they are about speaking a foreign language.
I say it to anyone who will listen: there is very little else that gives me more satisfaction in my job than seeing young children being confident enough to speak a different foreign language when it hasn’t been part of their childhood from birth.
Last week was no exception. I took five students to France with me as I wanted them to live a real linguistic experience, being fully immersed in the language and the culture of France. They stayed at my family home, we had lots of different activities planned but the main one was to go and spend a day at the local secondary school.
They were excited. They were scared. But they did it!
I told them that they would be the stars of the show for a day as I was sure many of the French students would want to come and speak to them to try their best English, if not ask them lots of questions about life in the UK.
I dropped them at the ‘collège’ at 8:15 in the morning and only picked them up at 5 pm.
I left little-tensed faces – I found new faces full of excitement and bursting with pride, 9 hours later.
No one was quite as proud as me though.
Immersion programmes work: the language isn’t just instruction as per a classroom setting but a means of communication – similar to how students have learnt English as babies – and that is why it works. The extensive exposure to the language helps students put the language they have learnt in practice and link all new words and expressions to their already acquired knowledge: the brain is wired and the language comes alive!
PS: Apparently my 5 did learn a few swear words. (Not quite my intention but hey, still part of a full immersion programme!)
PPS: And I’m told that they had a PE lesson and the English are definitely better at rugby than the French.