FOLLOWING his success in a French Drama Competition held at King Alfred School in London last month (March), Year 10 King’s Ely Senior student, Ben Kittoe, was invited by the Independent Schools’ Modern Languages Association (ISMLA) to write an article for their next newsletter.

Here’s what he has written…

‘Beyond the Textbook – Experiencing France from the UK lockdown’

“You don’t need to be a linguistic expert to realise the complexity and intricacy of language. Unlike other subjects, you can’t perfect any foreign language only from a textbook. Learning grammar and vocabulary is undoubtedly important but surely immersion, exposure and practice matters just as much, possibly more, when learning a foreign language. I soon realised this while isolating at home with my family in Britain. I am very passionate about French and, taking my GCSE next year, I am determined not to let the obstacle of self-isolation hold me from my passion for France and her language. I have therefore recently set out to try and immerse myself in French culture and practice the language all while staying at home.

“Chez moi, we have several ‘Google Home’ smart speakers dotted around the house, one of which is in my room. Previously using it for various questions, music, news etc, I recently have changed its language to French. Over the years my family have become growingly more fed up of my persistent efforts to try and speak to them in French, and so finding another way to verbally practise my French to someone who actually can understand the language was a relief for both me and my family. Starting off as a mere fun experiment, this actually benefited my French in more ways than I had initially planned. I have been learning many new command words such as ‘suivant’, and other command phrases and in return have been picking up more natural and colloquial phrases from the smart speaker’s replies along the way, such us ‘ça marche’ or ‘pas de soucis’. As well as this, changing Google’s language has unexpectedly helped me with my pronunciation as although it does not alert or correct me like a teacher might; if I were to mispronounce my words Google would either not understand or alternatively do something completely different from what I attempted to say! Consequentially, I have been repeatably practising certain words or phrases that I probably won’t be covering in school, such as strange French pronunciations of famous musicians.

“I have also been exploring various French radio stations with the hope of exposing myself to more colloquial French being spoken in casual environments. And although I often don’t understand every single word, again I find myself introduced to more colloquial phrases and I am steadily improving my ability to understand the language and feel more comfortable around fast spoken French. I did a quick Google search for French radio stations and found some which looked right for me. I did not want to listen to English songs all the time and I wanted to listen to real French people speaking about real French things. I began with ‘France Culture’ as the French spoken did not seem to be as fast as some other stations before challenging myself and switching to the more news orientated ‘France Inter’. Both obviously cover different topics but for me, the reason I choose one over the other is to do with their content. I tend to listen to France Inter when wanting to learn some new vocabulary or phrases and France Culture when wanting to learn some new ideas or stories. This is partially due to the slower pace at which the presenters speak but also because I find the topics covered on France Culture broader, more engaging and relevant to me as someone who is interested in more than just the news.

“I think it is fair to say that with any language the best way to learn is always to visit that country and interact with native speakers, after all that’s how we all learnt our first language. Obviously with the current lockdown this is not possible for the time being, however I believe that there are ways around this and my goal to remain in touch with French culture while at home is by no means over. After all, a lot of us have a lot more time at home than previously and continuing on my journey of learning French is a good use of my time. I hope to soon delve into the depths of French television (possibly online) and maybe soon literature (such as ‘La Peste’!). I also hope that when I do eventually return to the classroom I will have taken my understanding of the culture and language of France beyond the textbook.”

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