Category Archives: french stuff

Is school French a waste of time?

This weekend I read an article in the I newspaper which quoted Richard Branson as saying that learning French at school is a waste of time because nobody ever learns to speak it fluently in a classroom. He went on to say : “children spend years learning it in a classroom but nobody ever comes out of school able to speak French . It is a complete waste of time and if you go to France they will speak English anyway.” His conclusion was that students would be better off learning Spanish which is a global language and easier to learn.

now Richard Branson has lots of opinions and ideas (space tourism anyone?? Can’t think of anything less appealing myself…) but as a person who spent 5 years learning French in a classroom and left school with a GCSE but unable to speak French I have to concede that he does have a point.

My French classes began age 11 and involved learning lists of vocabulary which we were frequently tested on, and completing grammar exercises. When we listened to French recordings the native speaker talked VERY slowly, and it was repeated so many times even a baby could understand. We rarely had to speak. In fact it was possible never to speak if you didn’t want to. We were encouraged to read Paris Match magazine, nobody did. Altogether it was not a fun experience and clearly not effective. At the age of twenty one when I had long left French classes behind I dated a French guy named Alex for a while and discovered that I really couldn’t speak a word! The main problem was embarrassment as I was completely unable to pronounce any words I might have wanted to say. The French “r” sound is incredibly unnatural for an English speaker and mostly the reason in my opinion that English speakers give up!! I remember Alex trying to help me pronounce the word “araignee” (spider) correctly and after a few attempts I gave up. Defeated! The next day it was raining in Paris and he commented to me about the weather that it was  ” pas un temps d’aout” and I had to ask him to translate, defeated by the elision. If he’d written it down I’d have been fine. School French had failed me because I could neither pronounce the words not understand normal spoken French.

Recently my almost two year old tuned my car radio onto the France inter station – who even knew this was possible in the Midlands?? It’s not even one of those digital radios! So for the past few weeks whenever I drive anywhere I’ve been listening to radio programs similar to those on BBC radio 4 – current affairs, politics, some daft quiz shows, but also some music. The reception isn’t great which makes understanding even more of a challenge. It’s all very fuzzy so I drive along with a frown of concentration which probably makes me look quite angry. But undeniably my French listening has improved in the space of only a few weeks. It’s interesting to hear words and expressions popping out at you, like the word “donc” – French people say this a lot. Drop it into your conversation to instantly sound more authentic. There you go.

If you think about it Babies spend almost two years on average just listening to their native language before they start to speak more than the odd word, so listening A LOT is clearly the way forward. If you’re a baby. And also if you’re a learner of a second language!!

i am reaching the end of this ramble, really I am. I did try listening to Italian radio too but it was a Saturday night, and the station I found was a football match commentary, empoli versus Udinese. The last time I heard anyone speak so quickly I was in a Yorkshire livestock market buying some sheep. Seriously couldn’t understand a word. Think I need to find a more appropriate station for a very intermediate learner!! I learned the word “pareggio” which means ‘draw’. And also Tiro!!! Which they shout when the striker shoots at goal. I had zoned out by the time this happened so it gave me a shock I tell ya.

according to me, Richard Branson is correct, if they still teach French the way I learned at school it is indeed an ineffective waste of time. Far more listening and actual speaking are essential. And more fun.

as regards “French people all speaking English ” this is neither true nor a good attitude to have. No Richard, that doesn’t help at all.

is Spanish easier to learn? I don’t speak Spanish so I can’t really comment. As it shares quite a few similarities with Italian he could be right. Italian is much easier than French to me anyway. imageIs Spanish more global than French?? Probably, but only just?

now it’s time to listen listen listen! Anyone know any Italian radio stations apart from RAI 1 ????