“Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq…” The two French teachers counted the Class 5 students as they filed into Room 53 and took their seats. Then they introduced themselves. “Bonjour, Je m’appelle Mademoiselle Dolan,” said the teacher in the red sweater. “Je m’appelle Madame Seltzer,” said the one with the curly hair.
“Et toi?” guided Mme. Seltzer, directing her attention to the student sitting closest. “Je m’appelle…Sophie,” she answered, a bit haltingly. One by one, each girl followed by carefully sounding out the words: Je m’appelle Ellie, Je m’appelle Jayden and so on until everyone had a turn. Next, the class brainstormed words en français that are familiar to English speakers. The students offered les escargots, le croissant, crêpe, plié, pain au chocolat and the beloved storybook character Madeline. Mme. Seltzer wrote their suggestions on the board in black marker. These words were just a few examples of the countless French words that have been adopted into the English-language lexicon.
Nearly 20 minutes passed before a single word of English was uttered. And that was precisely the point of this particular exercise, the goal of which was to introduce Class 5 students to French by immersing them — however briefly — in this beautiful and important language. The students will soon be asked to choose one of three modern languages to pursue next year in Class 6 – French, Mandarin Chinese or Spanish. Having studied Spanish since Kindergarten, the other languages would be new experiences for most.
To generate interest in French and Mandarin, the respective teachers (Mme. Léonie Seltzer and Mlle. Caroline Dolan as well as Mandarin teacher Lin Wang) offered the students a taste of the two languages to better inform them for when selection time arrived. Although this writer was able only to visit one of the French presentations, Mr. Wang also provided each Class 5 section with a brief demonstration of what it would be like to study Mandarin.
“The students showed a lot of interest in learning this very different language,” noted Mr. Wang, who regularly incorporates music into his lessons to help his students with challenging pronunciation and memorization. During the recent introductory lesson, he taught the girls how to say hello, thank you, goodbye and awesome in Mandarin and how to count up to 10. They also learned to sing two Mandarin songs.
Back in Room 53, Mme. Seltzer and Mlle. Dolan shared fascinating facts about their favorite language during an animated Power Point presentation. Did you know, for example, that 75 million people speak French in 44 countries, including Canada, Madagascar, Laos, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco, Vietnam, Tunisia, Monaco and France?
The teachers were pleased with how easily the students picked up French words and phrases during this short lesson. “Your ears are ready to listen because you are such good Spanish speakers already,” commented Mlle. Dolan, pointing out the many similarities between French and Spanish. The teachers also asked the girls to “pretend speaking French” to experience how French-accented words felt in one’s mouth. “In English your mouth is relaxed,” Mme. Seltzer noted, adding that there is an extra sound that helps speakers enunciate certain French words. “It sounds like a lion roaring in your throat!” exclaimed Mlle. Dolan. Laughter filled the room as the students attempted to emulate this unique noise.
During the last few minutes of the class, Mme. Seltzer and Mlle. Dolan gave the students a gentle multiple-choice quiz, asking them 10 questions about French. Using mini whiteboards and colorful pens, they eagerly wrote down their answers and held the boards high for the teachers to see. As they prepared to head to the next class, Mme. Seltzer asked each one to share something she had learned. While their responses varied, their enthusiasm was universal. Whether they ultimately choose to study French or Mandarin Chinese or continue with Spanish, these students are on their way to becoming confident and curious multi-linguists.
Browse photos from the French presentation below: