Examples of Authentic French: The Case of Ils

By   April 28, 2012

As a follow up to my post on Subject Pronouns in Textbooks: Written vs. Spoken French and how French textbooks do not include the spoken meanings of the pronouns, I came across a few examples of the use of ils in the indefinite sense while preparing transcripts to use in class.

Textbooks still teach that on is the indefinite pronoun that means one / they / the people in a general sense when not referring to anyone in specific; however, this is not actually the case. Just like in English, French uses ils to mean they in both a specific and indefinite sense while on, instead of nous, is used much more often to mean we – which most textbooks do acknowledge, though it is usually classified as only being used in “casual conversation.”

  • From the film L’auberge espagnole:

Moi, par exemple, je suis wallonne, je ne parle pas le flamand. Quand je vais en Flandre, je me fais passer pour une française. Alors, ils me parlent en français… S’ils comprennent que je suis wallonne…

  • From the series Bref on Canal+:

Sur la notice, ils indiquaient qu’il fallait être deux pour monter ce meuble.


Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo


For advanced levels, all of the episodes of Bref are available online for free – though many of them probably cannot be used in American classrooms. For self-study and learning slang vocabulary, they are extremely useful. There are no subtitles for the online videos, but the DVD does have closed captioning (of course, it is not the transcript but more of a summary.) The opening screen even includes more examples of using ils in the indefinite sense:

Ils m’expliquent que c’est pas bien de télécharger, mais comme ils me disent sur un DVD que je viens d’acheter, j’ai l’impression que je me fais engueuler à cause des autres.

Finally, Institut Français Deutschland has several great dossiers pédagogiques to use in class on many French films, including L’auberge espagnole, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Astérix et Obélix : Mission Cléopâtre, Ma Vie en Rose, etc.

Links from the Australian Teachers of French Conference

By   April 18, 2012

The conference I attended in Perth at the beginning of April was The Federation of Australian Teachers of French Associations Biennial Conference and the Teachers of  French Association of Western Australia Annual Stage. I presented my research on the gap between what applied linguists recommend for inclusion in textbooks and what is actually in the textbooks regarding vocabulary (more on that later), but for now here are some links from presenters/sponsors/speakers:

  • Frenchteachers – new blog for Australian teachers of French by l’Ambassade de France en Australie
  • Hearsay Language Learning Downunder – using the Accelerative Integrated Method or AIM to teach languages with gestures, plays, songs, etc.
  • Le Forum – French bookshop in Fremantle
  • The Language Centre Bookshop – lots of language learning and teaching resources in Leederville
  • Joe Dale – creating a Personal Learning Network using social media, such as Twitter, to connect with other educators
  • Shay Stafford – former dancer at the Moulin Rouge and author of Memoirs of a Showgirl

Off to Perth for a Teachers of French Conference

By   March 31, 2012

I fly to Perth, Western Australia, tomorrow to present at the Teachers of French Association Conference. My presentation on the vocabulary coverage of French textbooks will include the beginning stages of my PhD project. I will report back on all of the presentations and everything new I learn about teaching and learning French in Australia next week.

Then thanks to the Easter holiday, I have a few days to explore the Perth region, including Fremantle and Rottnest Island. La vie est belle, n’est-ce pas ?

Beach on Rottnest Island

Mind the Word extension for Chrome: Learn languages as you browse the web

By   March 15, 2012

If you use Google Chrome as your web browser, Mind the Word is a useful extension to help you learn vocabulary in another language while you browse the web.

From the description: “In every webpage visited, it randomly translates a few words into the language that you would like to learn. By exposing you to only a few new words at a time and keeping them within context, it makes it easy for you to infer and memorize their meaning. If you need, you can hover the mouse over the translated word and the original word will be shown to you.”

Here’s my last blog post with the extension set to translate to Dutch and with the cursor hovering over meer:

Obviously it doesn’t do idioms well since it simply offers translation of single words, and you can’t really choose which words it will translate or not, but it is an easy way to make sure you integrate some language learning into your everyday internet routine.

Thanks to pagef30.com for bringing this to my attention.

International Women’s Day and Encouraging Women to Learn Languages

By   March 8, 2012

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

Improving the lives of women is very important to me, especially since women continue to be oppressed all over the world – including in my own country. I truly believe education is the key to empowerment and equality for all human beings, but more specifically, the knowledge of foreign languages is essential.

So how can we encourage more women to not only learn foreign languages, but also to show their skills to the rest of the world in order to encourage even more women to learn? Here is a conversation among three female polyglots, Susanna, Jana and Fasulye on this topic. I wasn’t able to participate, but I did send some research on the issue of gender in language learning which Susanna mentions, though sadly there is very little to no research on gender in language learning in independent settings, i.e. self-study instead of classes.

Beginning French Songs and Videos

By   February 29, 2012

I am teaching beginning French this semester and since all of the classrooms are equipped with computers and projectors, I have been delighting my students with weird songs and videos to reinforce the vocabulary they are learning. So for beginning learners of French or other French teachers who want to use videos in class, here are some examples of what I’ve been using:


A bonus in this video is showing how the French count on their hands, starting with the thumb.

What is your name?

Français Interactif’s chansons français has PDF exercises you can download.

I believe I will also introduce them to the love of my life, Pierre Capretz.

But I haven’t decided yet if I will terrify them with Téléfrançais or not.

I use the site www.keepvid.com to download the videos so I don’t have to rely on a working internet connection in the classroom. Windows Live Movie Maker and VirtualDub are free and easy to use programs for editing the videos if you want to cut some parts out or repeat certain sections.

Native Speaker Teachers and Use of the First Language in the Classroom

By   February 17, 2012

Around the world, there is a conventional thought that foreign languages should only be taught by native speakers and that the students’ native language should be banned from the classroom. This is especially commonplace among English as a Second or Foreign Language schools which tend to exclusively employ native speakers of English, even if they have absolutely no experience or training in language teaching. However, this is mostly done for reasons related to money, prestige and prejudice and it is not, in fact, supported by linguistic research. Imagine any other business where you could teach someone else to do something in which you have absolutely no knowledge or success. How can you teach someone to speak a second or additional language when you do not speak a second or additional language yourself?

Or knowledge, or expertise, or degrees…

Only hiring native speakers and denying use of the native/first language (L1) only serves to undermine (and insult) multilingual local teachers and contradicts numerous studies showing the benefits of using the native language to learn a second or subsequent language. I certainly feel insulted when people say they will not learn languages from non-native speaking teachers because I am a non-native teacher of French. I am fluent in the language and have years of teaching experience, as well as several degrees and publications, and yet because my native language is not French that somehow makes me inferior to native speakers with no experience or education in teaching. In many ways, I actually prefer non-native speakers as teachers because then I know they have gone through the same experience as me in learning the language and they know the mistakes that I am likely to make and how to avoid them. Many people do not want to learn from non-native speakers because of their accent or the fear that the teacher will make mistakes, most of the input in the foreign language needs to come from authentic sources of language use rather than from the teacher anyway.

This problem is more rampant among English classes since English is taught much more often across the globe, but the prejudice remains for all languages. And it leads into the second issue of banning the L1, because if the teacher is monolingual then he or she cannot resort to another language in the classroom. Yet second language acquisition research provides no reason to ban the L1 completely from the classroom, and there certainly exists research to support that using the L1 is more effective for certain aspects of language learning – such as explaining grammar or tasks, disciplining students, translations for ambiguous words, etc. Of course, there are limits to how much the L1 should be used as the amount of input in the second language (L2) is extremely important. But the L1 does indeed help in learning the L2 and creating connections between the two languages. As there is some overlap among languages in the brain, it can be impossible to “turn off” the L1 when using the L2. Code-switching and constantly moving between languages and cultures is entirely normal – it is not something to be banned or looked down upon.

The success of immersion programs has been used as the rationale to support banning the L1, and even though teaching non-language courses in a foreign language can improve language learning, many immersion programs do not ban the L1 completely. In fact, much of the research on immersion programs show the importance of adding an L2 to an L1 instead of replacing the L1 by an L2. Unfortunately it happens all too often that the opposite of research reported in the popular press immediately becomes wrong. We are too quick to assume that evidence for an idea also means evidence against the competing idea. Yet nothing is ever that black and white. The success of a few immersion programs should in no way imply that non-immersion programs are a failure, especially when there is no evidence for it. And thanks to research on code-switching, the cognitive benefits of L1 use, and L2 language exposure (input alone does not suffice – it must become intake), many scholars have softened their position to agree that the L1 should not be banned completely.

Bilingual kidsCode-switching makes me smile

Language students should always be thought of as developing bilinguals or multilinguals, rather than two or more monolinguals. The monolingual native speaker model that is portrayed in essentially all pedagogical materials (as well as by hiring monolingual teachers) presents an unattainable and impossible goal for language learners. When you learn a second language, you are no longer monolingual and by definition, you will never be a native speaker of another language. So why is that the model that we teach to students?  I completely agree with Carl Blyth when he notes the irony of “using monolingual speakers as role models for learners striving to overcome their own monolingualism.” We need non-native and multilingual models and teachers of the language because that is exactly what the students are and what they will become: non-native and multilingual.

Students should never be denied the opportunity to use their L1 in any type of learning, especially young students who haven’t even completely acquired their native language yet. Allowing the native language in school has many benefits, yet there still exists “English Only” attitudes that only help to deteriorate students’ cognitive abilities. Recent reports of students being punished for speaking their native language – such as Menominee in the US or French in northern Belgium – are worrying because they bring back horrible reminders of Native American boarding schools and the Stolen Generation. Students should certainly never be made to feel as though their language is bad or wrong, because if their language is undesirable, then what about the culture linked to the language or the people themselves who speak the language? Are they undesirable as human beings as well?

English Only ZoneJust say NO to lack of empirical evidence!

Fortunately researchers have started calling for a more bilingual or lingua franca approach to teaching English which focuses on context and learner needs, which really should be applied to all languages. Ideally the teachers are multilingual and multicultural, who know the language of their students and have some knowledge of the particularities of the varieties of the language used throughout the world. When talking about world languages, we tend to think of English, Spanish, French, Arabic, etc. but every language consists of varieties depending on where and how it is used. For more information on lingua franca teaching, World Englishes: Implications for International Communication and English Language Teaching by Andy Kirkpatrick is a great introduction.


Other books I like to re-read on this topic include:

Australia’s Language Potential by Michael Clyne

Second Language Learning and Language Teaching by Vivian Cook

First Language Use in Second and Foreign Language Learning edited by Miles Turnbull and Jennifer Dailey-O’Cain (especially chapter 9 by Carl Blyth)