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Listening, speaking, reading, writing – these are the four skills we practise on a daily basis in the French Department. So many questions!  Comment tu t’appelles? Où habites-tu? As-tu un frère ou une soeur? C’est quand ton anniversaire? As-tu un animal à la maison? Quel temps fait-il? Qu’est-ce que tu portes à l’école? Que penses-tu de ton uniform scolaire? Qu’est ce que tu préférais porter, alors? Quelle est ta matière préférée? Pourquoi? Quels sports fais-tu? Qu’est-ce que tu as fait la semaine dernière pendant les vacances de Toussaint?And then the commands! Levez-vous! Asseyez-vous! Ouvrez vos cahiers verts! Montrez-moi vos trousses! Touchez la tête! Ferme la porte, s’il te plait! Rangez vos affaires! N’oubliez pas vos devoirs!

I’m speaking to you: but is it “tu” or “vous”? Is it singular or plural, polite or informal? What does the infinitive of a verb mean? (no time, no body!) To conjugate a verb?! The verb endings change for each person (or pronoun). We can, however, link our learning to English: first person singular, third person plural; and to Latin: the pronoun chant! (and much more!) Then there are all the funny squiggles (aka accents) on some of the letters, which may, or may not change the sound of the word!

This is just a taste of what we are learning in French. The children are absorbing the grammar and pronunciation long before they are taught grammar in a more structured way – as it should be when learning a language. In the Pre-Prep every Wednesday afternoon, the emphasis is on speaking and listening and enjoyment. Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 sing action songs about animals, the weather, days of the week and seasons of the year, numbers, colours, food, likes and dislikes and classroom objects. They sometimes watch short authentic French clips of actual school life in France or shopping there or listen to children describing their pets. They are great mimics at this age and readily absorb much of what they hear, eager to learn.

In the Prep School, much of this is repeated, but in greater depth, adding the skills of reading and writing, which is where the grammar necessarily comes in and connections can be made with other languages. For 26th September pupils were invited to research and make a poster of another European country, its customs and language to celebrate the European Day of Languages. As a result we have many colourful and interesting facts and designs, as well as attempts at pronouncing new words, together with making useful comparisons between languages and noting differences.

In Years 3 and 4 the children are speaking, listening and beginning to record and recognise numbers, commands and classroom objects through games and songs. Having described their pets and learned about adjective agreements, Year 5 are revising the weather, months and seasons ready to make up their own weather forecast; while Year 6 are just moving on from that to talk about their hobbies, sports and time. Year 7 are immersed in grammar, having revised the vital verbs of “avoir” and “être” ready to learn the perfect tense (passé composé).

Year 8 are currently absorbed in revising and worrying about their mocks. In any modern foreign language there are four separate tests, of which the speaking is by far the most terrifying! I apologise and try to make the test as friendly as possible, but if they can ask and answer the questions at the beginning of this piece, practise little and often on any of the fun interactive language websites and ask family members to join in, then they will be well on the way to a confident and positive speaking test outcome, which will, hopefully, take them far, whether for holidays or work!

Give your brain a boost! Learning a second language has been proven to improve memory, increase the attention span and reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline such as dementia. Bonne chance!

Jane Austen