French to Falkirk: a step on the
road to transforming language
teaching .
John Bald, independent consultant.
Brain cells and connections
(from The Learning Brain, Blakemore and Frith, 2005)
As we learn, brain cells form connections with
each other that build into networks. These
connections are strengthened with practice.
Santiago Ramon y Cajal,
Nobel Prize 1906
Eric Kandel
In Search of Memory: the Emergence
of a New Science of Mind (NY, 2006).
Brain cell
(from Neuroscience and Education, Teaching and Learning Research Project, 2007)
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2012
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2012
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2012: Six months
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2012: Three years
The brain adapts itself to
different languages
Reading Aloud in English and Italian, evidence from brain scans (active areas in black)
Left: reading system of English and Italian combined
Centre: sound processing more active in Italian
Right: word form area more active in English
(fromThe Learning Brain, Blakemore and Frith, 2005)
The areas of the brain used for written and spoken language
are interlinked and overlap
(Dr. Matt Davis, MRC, Languages Today, Spring 2013)
As we learn a new language…
• We add to and adapt the structures formed in
our brain as we learned our first language.
• These structures influence the way we learn the
new language, both the parts we find easy, and
the errors we make (Swan and Smith, Learner English.)
English speakers need to adapt to:
• New relationships between written and spoken
language, including spelling and pronunciation.
• Gender in nouns that have no physical gender, and
in associated pronouns and adjectives.
• Greater variation in verb forms than in English
(except for Mandarin!)
We promote the formation of
networks in children’s minds by
• Understanding the adjustments they need to
make to their thinking
• Explaining these clearly in terms children
• Clear and attractive presentation
• Teaching spoken and written language together,
so that children can see the links between them.
• Encouraging and answering questions
• Encouraging them to practise
We hinder the formation of networks
• Copying, which requires children to switch their
attention continually between the master version
and their own. These jerky movements thinking
and the formation of connections.
• Overloading, by presenting too much new written
material at a time, or presenting spoken language
that is too fast for children to understand.
Copying, c1700 BC
(From The History of Writing, S.R Fischer)
Copying errors from a Year 7 mixed-ability class
Quel as âge tu.
O habite tu
Ou j’habites-tu
Où habite a Londres.
Common t’appelle tú_
Je onzo age
Ja un douze
Quel âge as-tu?
Où habites-tu?
J’habite à Londres.
Comment t’appelles-tu?
J’ai onze ans
J’ai douze ans
(experienced teacher, pupils had models of the sentences
they were trying to write, from which they could copy.)
Key Features of French…
• The French like their spoken language to
flow, and their written language to be
• All nouns have a gender. (Very
occasionally, two – le or la professeur)
• The form of verbs varies more than in
English, and the negative is tricky.
... a suggested first order...
• Colours have key features – vert, bleu, rouge,
blanc, jaune, orange, noir, violet, marron. Say
together, study, look away, write on sleeve.
• Bonjour! (G’day). Drop the tongue to pronounce.
• Sing and point (to self and people) pronouns
• Sing and point être. I usually do negative first.
• Sentence building with family and pets introduces
gender and avoir, positive and negative.
…and a way of teaching flow in French
• Explain that vowels are voice sounds, and that two
together can be jerky – say je ai . Can they hear the jerk?
• Demonstrate the technique of dropping the first vowel and
replacing it with an apostrophe. Write apostrophe on the
board. Who thinks it’s an English word? Explain that
apostrophe comes from the Greek word for gap, and that
we have a gap when we take out a letter. So, we have j’ai.
• Have children study j’ai, then clean it off/minimise it, and
have them trace it with their finger on their sleeve or
desk. Nearly all will get it right. Praise.
• Write and explain the sentence J’ai un chat, noting the
letter at the end of the word that is not pronounced.
Repeat the tracing.
With Clicker…
Extensions suggested by Y4
Year 7, girl, assessed as dyslexic, before
sentence building work
Year 7, girl, assessed as dyslexic, after six
weeks’ sentence building work
Year 7, boy assessed as dyslexic
Year 4, higher-attaining girl
Year 4, higher-attaining girl
l'homme, la femme, le garçon, la fille, bonjour, salut, merci, nous sommes calmes, nous sommes riches, j'aime, j'adore, j'aime les chiens, j'adore notre chat, j'ai, tu as, il a, elle
French to Falkirk, first writing sample pupils
aged 10 and 11 (five minutes, unaided)
Pupil A:
bonjour, bonsoir, salut, au revoir, à plus tard, bientôt,
bienvenu, oui, non, merci beaucoup, aller, être, Comment
allez-vous? avez vous, Quel âge as-tu? j'habite, Quelle
heure est-il, je vous en prie, je ne comprends pas, pourvoir,
parce que, j'aime mon joli chapeau.
Pupil B:
l'homme, la femme, le garçon, la fille, bonjour, salut, merci,
nous sommes calmes, nous sommes riches, j'aime, j'adore,
j'aime les chiens, j'adore notre chat, j'ai, tu as, il a, elle a,
nous avons, vous avez, ils ont, elles ont, s'il vous plaît, noir,
rose, blanc.
French to Falkirk, second writing sample
pupil A aged 11 (five minutes, unaided)
Je m'appelle O.M. J'ai douze ans. Je suis née a Harrogate dans
le Norde de l'Angeterre, mais je vis à Falkirk en Ecosse depuis
six ans.
Je vis avec ma soeur, ma mère, mon père, et deux chiens Bella
et Manchee. Je suis eduquée a domicile par mes parents.
J'aimerais pouvoir explorer les sujets en plus de detail et j'ai
decouvert de nouveaux sujets, tels que le cinema et l'histoire
de l'art. J'aime particulièrement les films d'Alfred Hitchcock,
surtout North by North-West parce qu'il est pleine de
suspense. J'aimerais aller à l'université pour étudier la
criminologie et la psychologie, la medicine peut-être.
Mes parents s'appellent Katherine et John. Mon père est
inventeur et ingénieur specialisé dans les technologies de
l'énergie renouvelable et maman aide papa avec l'enterprise.
French to Falkirk, second writing sample
pupil B aged 11 (five minutes, unaided)
Je m'appelle S M .
J'ai onze ans. Je suis née le neuf septembre 2003 (duexmille-trois).
Mes parents sont Katharine et John Montgomery.
J'ai deux soeurs qui s'appellent Olivia et Gloria et un frère
qui s'appel Michael.
Gloria travaille actuellemont a Londres pour Amnesty
Michael vit a Singapour et travaille en ton que journaliste
pour un journal d'enterprise.
French Verb song
(song copyright ©Joe Biswell and John Bald)
(point to self, whole hand –finger pointing is rude)
(point to a friend, whole hand – they can’t help smiling !)
(point to a boy, not your tu friend)
(ditto a girl)
Nous Big circular sweep with both hands
Vous Point to teacher with both hands – explain that vous is a
mark of respect to a grown up.
Point to two boys both hands
Elles Point to two girls both hands
A possible order for verbs
• Pronouns only with actions
• Etre (negative with shaking of head)
• Etre positive (might try with nodding head)
• Some regular verbs - eg regarder, écouter, jouer, penser,
manger (these bring out regular patterns)
• Any other verb the children would need to use to say
Some patterns in French verbs
• ils/elles end in nt
Nearly Always
• Nous ends in
• Vous ends in
(not vous êtes and vous faites)
• Tu
(not tu veux or tu peux)
ends in
(not nous sommes)
• These patterns recur in almost all tenses, including those
made with auxiliary (helping) verbs, conditionals and

Every Child Matters – key aims