Written to the song: Say you’ll be there — Spice Girls

“To be upset over what you don’t have is to waste what you do have” — Unknown

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

This past month I have been in reflective and action mode regarding my language instruction, and the needs of my students. As the name “French Immersion” implies, the curriculum states that French should be taught in an immersive second-language environment, with the goal of students absorbing and learning the language rather than memorizing verbs. While I love immersion and consider it to be the best way to learn a language, I find that there isn’t enough direct instruction to fix the “minor” language errors. I have students in my class who will be going to middle-school next year, and are misspelling common words such as, for and because, do not comprehend the meaning behind French homophones, and are unaware of how to conjugate common verbs. What would you do in this situation?

I decided to take my French instruction back three steps. While immersion is the very best way to learn a language, common mistakes need to be corrected, or they will last a lifetime. My students did not understand the difference between masculine and feminine French words, kept on saying “j’ai a” (meaning ‘I have have’ — a redundant sentence due to not understanding verb conjugations), and say “je suis fini” rather than “j’ai fini”, a common error meaning I am finished (dead) rather than I have completed my work.
Here are some strategies that I dreamt about and applied that helped correct these simple but powerful language errors.

  1. Chalkboard corrections. While marking my students’ work, I started taking note of common errors. Initially, before morning announcements I put up a sentence with multiple errors that I create based on their spelling and grammatical errors. I tell them how many mistakes to look for, set two minutes on the timer, and the students give me a thumbs-up once they find the errors. We take it up as a class, going through the reasoning behind each mistake to better understand the concept. I have recently jazzed-up this activity by purchasing four adhesive chalkboards which I put on the doors, shelves, etc. I split the class up into four groups and we have a competition to see which group works the best as a team to solve the problem as quickly as possible. It gets so intense, I had to purchase a referee whistle.

Language is the absolute best, but bad language habits need to be corrected and cared for. The overall goal of achieving fluency in a language can only be achieved when the “minor” mistakes are accounted for.

Author of “Q & A a Day for Travelers”. https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-frenkel/