Saturday, February 9, 2008

Learning French in school

Canada's official languages comissioner, Graham Fraser, wants to see some kind of standardized tests for second language learning for students. While I do not think that standardized tests are the best way to assess language learning, I do like the idea that students and their families may be able to know their French language fluency levels.

I do think that students should be given a clear indication on the fluency level by the time they complete high school French. In Europe, there is a six-point scale that goes from A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2 which is the highest level of fluency.

The Czech Republic will be using the European Language Portfolio to assess their students on their foreign language learning.

From Industry Canada on the Czech Republic:

"Several education frameworks have already been proposed aimed at making every European citizen tri-lingual i.e., able to communicate in their native language plus two others. The Framework Educational Program for Pre-school Education and the Framework Educational Program for Primary Education have already been approved, and as a result, all students in primary schools will be taught English. The initial English language teaching will focus on integrating English language education seamlessly from kindergarten through secondary school. In accordance with the CEFR for Languages, A1 has been designated the mandatory skill level to be achieved by the end of grade five, A2 by the end of grade nine and B2 by the end of secondary school. The objective of the Action Plan is to create a language learning environment that will prepare EU citizens to communicate with each other easily."

If Canadian students in Core French start learning in grade-four, then by the end of grade-six, they should be at level A1. By the end of grade-nine, they should be at level A2. By the end of grade-twelve, the students should be speaking French independently at a high B1 level for several minutes in long unscripted basic conversations that may not contain too many technical words.

I do not suggest standardized written tests for fluency in the French language. I do think that the provincial curriculums (or whatever the Latin plural is) should give students and their parents a clear indication of the fluency levels that the students will achieve by the end of key grades.

I am critical of French language learning in our schools because I graduated from high school with a grade 13 credit in French. I did not consider myself fluent or even functional in French. I do understand why students drop French after grade-nine in Ontario. Why should students learn a subject in which they are set up to pass the courses in high school, but fail to understand in the end?

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