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French pronunciation and phonics

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by Petite Joueuse, Feb 15, 2011.

  1. I'm wondering how to improve my pupils' pronunciation of French - they find the spelling-sound links so alien to their English -speaking ears and eyes.
    Does anyone do any sort of French phonics work as part of their teaching?
    Does it work or are the pupils still confused?
  2. PierreImport

    PierreImport Administrator

    Phonics as part of their work? No, of course not. At least not directly. I can't think of many things less interesting at school level than doing that. The children would, as yousuggest, become very confused.

  3. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

    I have, but more in terms of making them understand how to guess a word from reading it, not so much pronouncing it right. The main thing I find it that English-speaking pupils tend to lengthen their vowels and create diphtongs (spelling?) where there isn't any, e.g. [jayyy] instead of j'ai. I tell my pupils that French is short and snappy and that they need to shorten their words. It seems to make them focus better on hearing the sound properly, in order to repeat it properly as well.
    For the [r], I make them pretend they're about to spit, and make them practise the sound itself, before inserting it into a word. Same with any -tion word, I make them do a [​IMG] before moving on to the whole word.
    But at the end of the day, I have some students who naturally pick it up, most students who pick it up eventually (usually after a couple of years they're fairly decent) and a few who are hopeless at their pronunciation and will always be! For those, if they go on to GCSE, I give them a text-to-speech website for their controlled assessment and pray that they'll get the message and won't choose it at A-level (though I have one Y12 student at the moment who is really struggling, bless!).
    Hope it's helped and that I haven't been too patronising. Let me know by pm if you want any of my phonics resources - I haven't uploaded them as they're mainly stolen from other tes contributors and tweaked a bit.
  4. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

    instead of the [​IMG], read [ s ]! Silly icons!
  5. PierreImport

    PierreImport Administrator

    Yes, Noemie, it is best not to [​IMG] in class.
  6. noemie

    noemie Occasional commenter

  7. PierreImport

    PierreImport Administrator

    Careful you don't pronoounce that phonetically in French.
  8. Thanks noemie.
    I guess I sort of DO teach phonics already, as in pointing out rhyming words as and when they occur. I just wondered if anyone taught pronunciation as a more discrete skill....
  9. This came up on mfl resources recently and somebody posted this link which I bookmarked, cos I felt I might also pursue it further.
    The main language she deals with is Spanish, but there was a whole host of links to other stuff, including French I think.
  10. I never taught phonics systematically, but whenever I presented a new word or phrase I ensured that my pupils knew how to say it and spell it, and I did give them a basic set of rules about French sounds and the different ways in which they could be written. I found that a regular dictation exercise helped reinforce the rules of spelling and raised pupils' awareness about the complex relationship between sounds and spelling in French (as in English too, of course).
    See Suzi Bewell's slideshow, Creativity and (French) phonics:

  11. With my students I use dictation also and I ask them to keep a pronunciation log where they add the rules as we see them. When we do reading any mistake is picked up and challenged, if the student corrects himself then he is asked why did he correct himself, what is the rule, if he doesn´t then he is reminded of the rule... ai is e, ou is... and so on
    French pronuncation, in my humble opinion, is much easier than English, in the sense that although there are lots of rules, at least there are rules. I find French sound-grapheme correspondence much more straightforward than English. This is from a foreign speaker of both French and English, and coming from a language with a limited sound base, Spanish.
    So, Grovyguzy has a point with dictation. When I was learning French and English our teachers drilled us with dictation, and they DIDN´T MARK our books, WE MARKED our books and had to write out the mistakes correctly. I found this very helpful, but I am not sure if Ofsted would find it entertaining enough for the modern classroom.

    One technique that I have never used for MFL but that they use in Dyslexia Action to drill spelling is using business-card-sized flash cards. You write the letters on one side and the sound on the other with a word and a drawing of the time.
    For instance: "ain" main and draw a hand. But in my opinion nothing beats reading and dictation.
  12. The answer to your question lies in the field of 'Phonics', where students get taught the basics of unqiue sounds in each language as building blocks for learning to pronounce and store words in their minds.
    In the case of French there exist only 44 unique sounds (phonemes, so on the syllabic level, not whole word). Of those 44 sounds, English students will recognize only half of the French sounds as unique sounds they already learned, but the other 22 French sounds will be new to them.

    In other languages there may be more or less such 'basic sounds' (like in Dutch there are 42 and in Japanese there are 45).

    If you merely teach those limited number of sounds to your pupils, you'll see that they will enjoy 'foreign language learning' more, since their brain does not get tortured to store 1000s of sounds, but much less instead. If you do not use that phonics method, the kids will be frustrated frequently when encountering new words, as they will not be able to pronounce them. That is where they give up learning the new language.

  13. marmot.morveux

    marmot.morveux New commenter

    Yes I do do phonics lessons - and the kids ACTUALLY enjoy them....[​IMG] - because there are lots of games and it makes them more independent! ....having said that I wouldn't do any until they've done several topics and covered the majority of the sounds through repetition. I see phonics lessons as consolidating the sounds that you've already covered. You can also use it to cover the links they can naturally make between words that they already know.

    My justification is...only the highest ability children seem to be able to pick up the rules automatically and then they struggle with the nasal sounds. They want to know these rules because they know it will help them with their speaking.

    Another reason I do phonics lessons is that I have found in the past that pupils can reach key stage 4 and still not be confident with their pronunciation whereas, this doesn't seem to happen in German. Our current year 10s are better than the previous year 11 because we've done phonics work in year 9. I would however, recommend that you do it at the end of year 7, beginning of year 8 though...because with more confident French speakers, the kids find French easier. The complaint I've always heard in the past is; 'I can't pronounce it sir' - so they won't have a go.

    In conjunction with the phonics lessons, I'm doing more speaking lessons to increase confidence and besides, I've been guilty of overdoing the writing in the past. Another good 'pronunciation' lesson is to go through a French song with the pupils. 1) Let them have a go at reading it aloud in pairs, 2) Go through the rules on silent letters in French, 3) Read the song aloud yourself, whilst the pupils highlight up the silent letters, 4) Let them read the song again, 5) then play the song and get them to follow it.

    By the way, I work in a state school and I'm sure in most private schools the kids would pick up the pronunciation naturally because they are generally higher ability kids.

    Sorry, if I've been too opinionated in this post but I believe what I've said, my students are starting to become more confident.

  14. Geekie

    Geekie Occasional commenter

    I don't think ability has anything to do with it. Some very clever kids have no feel for language at all - my husband is a prime example. I don't think we should assume that any child will just pick it up as they go along. There is a huge emphasis on the sound-spelling link in KS2, so for effective transition into KS3, or rather continuity and progression across the key stages, secondary languages should continue to refer to phonics explicitly.
  15. marmot.morveux

    marmot.morveux New commenter

    I agree about the explicit mention of phonics, especially as that is how they are often learning English. In fact, several of my year 7s enthousiastically said; 'what? Like jolly phonics sir?!'

    I also try to keep on referring them back to words they have already met. A recent example is when I showed the pupils the word 'seau'. ...I drew their attention to the fact the pupils already knew, 'chateau, bateau, gateau, eau' (excuse lack of circumflexes please).

    It cheered me up too when an English teacher told me, 'they corrected my spelling of the word 'cliché', they told me I'd put the accent in the wrong direction!'

    Using phonics also makes your lessons more challenging (great for ofsted!) as you're teaching a skill for them to apply.
  16. marmot.morveux

    marmot.morveux New commenter

    By the way geekie I was generalising a bit, I admit, when I said about higher ability pupils being able to pronounce French better. I was comparing top and middle sets.
  17. I have been teaching phonics this year with some success. I have been doing a project to get students to speak and teaching "French sounds" has been a major part of increasing their confidence.
    Little and often is the way to do it and we've been doing it as if it were a game for 5 minutes at a time.
    Eg We know how to pronounce this word "trois" so how are we going to pronounce these words: avoir, loi, étroit and so on. Then the students look through books and texts to find and then say more examples.
    The students are really enjoying it and it seems to be working for many of them.[​IMG]
  18. It looks like everyone agrees that phonics should be taught as it does improve most students' pronunciation and confidence.
    I have personally introduced a new SoW on phonics for Y7 in my school this year and the results have been impressive. It includes 10 lessons covering different aspects of French phonics within the context of the story tale Goldilocks. Most students are now able to read new words correctly and their pronunciation in speaking activities is much better.
    Most of my Y7s are able to speak and read in French better than most of my other groups up to Y11!
    I will definitely use that SoW every year with all my Y7s!
    Anyone interested, I am happy to share SoW and resources [​IMG]

  19. spsmith45

    spsmith45 New commenter

    Found an effective way of teaching the uvular r sound recently. I demonstrate the English r by saying "ara". I then demonstarte the French r by saying "ara" so that they can see that my lips do not move. I then tell them that these two sounds share the same letter, but actually have nothing in common phonetically. I then get them to recognise whether the sound "ara" is the English or French one (several times). We then do group repetition, then individual repetition.
    The advantage of "ara" is that they can clearly see that the lips are not involved at all in the French r. This discourages them from trying rolled "r"s or English style ones.
    I have found the method quite effective and good fun too.
    For vowels I recently did some basic repetiton work with them, then read a short passage with vowels only, leaving out all the consonants. This is quite fun and really focuses them on French vowels. In pairs theythen had to do the same exercise - reading a short text with vowels only. Fairly challenging.
    My set phrase for nasal vowels is the one my teachet taight me at aschool: "un bon vin blanc".
  20. rosaespanola

    rosaespanola New commenter

    I do a lot of work on phonics and the results are very noticeable as far as my pupils' confidence and ability with speaking is concerned. Colleagues have commented that when they take on a new class, they can always tell which pupils have been in my class before when they do speaking work.
    If you click on my username, it'll bring up a ton of resources I've uploaded for doing phonics in lessons. Good luck!

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