Friday, 27 January 2012

Bonjour Line, et merci

If you can remember your own childhood, have ever observed children or even watched them playing with Furbies and learning Furbish, you will know that children have an extraordinary capacity for learning language.  The last time I read anything about the National Curriculum, it had been recognised that waiting until children reached the age of 12 before starting to teach them foreign languages was a bad idea.  I don't know if any change in practice has resulted, though.

I was lucky enough to go to an enlightened junior school, and was introduced to French at about age 8 or 9.  We were trundled into a special room kitted out with a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a projector.  The course consisted of pictures being projected onto a screen and the corresponding speech being played from the tape.  It was a graphic novel, with the speech bubbles replaced by audio.  We looked, listened and repeated.  The teacher explained the vocabulary and went into aspects of grammar as they arose, but as far as we were concerned, we were being told a story.  We didn't really realise that we were learning anything at the time.  The title of the course was "Bonjour Line"

My family moved house part-way through the course, I moved to a different junior school, and I didn't study French again until grammar school.  We started again with the same audio-visual concept, topping it off with two years of book-based French grammar, taking us to the "O" levels.

After "O" levels, I didn't make any effort to maintain my French skills.  But 33 years later, on moving to France, I was able to make myself understood, could talk reasonably fluently and had a vocabulary sufficient for ordinary purposes.  I put this entirely down entirely to the Bonjour Line course: the German that I also studied to "O" level has almost entirley disappeared.

I have never found anything better than the concept of listen and repeat for improving my French.  The nearest thing to the Bonjour Line course that I have found is the graphic novel, although the speech bubbles are witten rather than spoken.  I find that the combination of pictures, storyline and context mean that it is easier to remember new vocabulary as it is presented.

For speaking practice, there are various publications in which an audio version of the text is presented.  I used to use a publication "Champs Elisées" now no longer available, that offered commentary on French current affairs, culture, history, tourism and other things.  A free piece of software called Audacity allows you to slice the speech up into manageable pieces, and will replay them as often as you like while you practice repeating it correctly.

My enjoyment of the graphic novel has been rewarding in itself.  I am reading an excellent adaptation of the story "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Pilip K Dick, that was also the idea behind the film Blade Runner.  The book is much more profound and subtle than the film (as is often the case).  The graphic novels behind the film "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" are similarly fascinating, and I am delighted by my graphic bio of Jimi Hendrix.  I am now reading The Watchmen, in English this time.  And so the ripples spread.


7 comments:

Tim Trent said...

We had a fierce, petite French (really French) mistress, and I started learning at 8 as well. I can still write out the pluperfect of avoir! How strange, then, to be on a train in France and the only word I could think of for "good morning" was "beaujourdoi"!

the fly in the web said...

I'm going to have to look for something similar for Costa Rican Spanish...My husband speaks Spanish Spanish which really confuses people...

Mark In Mayenne said...

I'm glad you can still remember, Tim!

I didn't realise that Cosa Rican Spanish is different, but then I suppose it probably would be. I'll be interested to know if you found anything...

Jonathan said...

Towards the end of my third year of high school I broke a bone in my right hand by hitting another boy (amicably, I like to think) on the head in some dormitory horseplay. Having missed the exam to decide our sets, one of the French teachers collared me in a corridor one Saturday morning a week or two later, sat me down in a classroom and presented me with a pen and the test paper. So I failed to make the grade and spent two frustrating years at the top of the CSE class where we only learned the present and perfect tenses. A few years ago I took Spanish GCSE just for fun but my first love was French. Adult ed beckon, methinks. Or at least some French comics and a dictionary.

Mark In Mayenne said...

J, I would strongly recommend the Tin-Tin series of books. The story line might be aimed at kids but the dialogue is well-represented, and the plot just about holds adult attention. If you can discipline yourself to make sure you can translate every speech bubble into English, you will learn a lot. Asterix the Gaul is also good, but the wordplay can be a bit subtle: I miss a lot of it.

mikewhit said...

Yes, 'Bonjour Line' ... Le petit déjeuner ... Le bonhomme de neige ... ! "Voici un carrot." - "Pourquoi faire ?" - "Pour faire le nez !"

Mark In Mayenne said...

Et pour les yeux? Il faut deux cailloux

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