A Better Way to Teach (and Learn) French

In high school, I loathed French. Every minute of it was agony, from grade 8 to 12. My perennial C-pluses in the class reflected my attitude. I wasn’t keen on the teachers, but I doubt it was their fault. According to educator Shannon Bourbonnais, the curriculum was probably to blame:

Students learn lists of nouns, such as “sports” or “clothes,” and then they learn rules like when to use the past perfect versus imperfect. But that’s not the way we speak. People communicate in sentences, and verbs are central to language. People communicate with statements like “I want,” “I can” or “I have to.” But because “want,” “can” and “must” are irregular verbs in French, they are usually not taught in the first few years of standard French programs.

Bourbonnais references an alternative method of learning which sounds like it would have worked a lot more effectively for me. It might have helped if, when I was in school, we’d started in grade two instead of grade 8.


  1. Gawd I hated french! The whole gender and verb thing. Luckily in those days you didn’t need it to get into university. It’s about time they figured out a better way to teach it.

  2. I took French from grade 2 onwards and even for a semester while at university (just for kicks – well that and a preferable gender ratio). You would think after all of that I could at least converse in the language. Sadly, a recent trip to Quebec showed me just how non-existent my French skills are. Quite proudly however, I can still conjugate the verb avoir: j’ai, tu as, il a, nous avons….

  3. The first thing we learned was to chant, I mean conjugate, “am” and “have”. However we were using books written in the 1940’s, before the new philosophy of making education easier for students!

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