Intermediate French II, Middle Georgia State University
Intermediate French II is a face-to-face, 3-hour credit course meeting twice a week for one hour and fifteen minutes. It is the final required course for the Associate’s Degree in French described as follows in the university catalog: “A continuation of Intermediate French I utilizing language skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Students will further be exposed to discussion in French, written compositions, selected literary works, and Francophone culture to prepare students for upper level French courses.”
Although students have oral exams starting from the very first semester of the French curriculum, Intermediate French II is the course where the program formally assesses students’ oral proficiency through a cultural oral presentation. As of December 2015, there are 9 students registered for this course for Spring 2016. These are traditionally-aged students pursuing the Associate’s Degree in French, and either a Bachelor’s degree in English (2), History (2), Business (1), Biology (2), and Public Service (1). Out of these 9 students, only one has ever traveled abroad, and very few of them have had exposure to native speakers of French outside of myself.
The curriculum was redesigned in 2015, foregoing a textbook in favor of building a course based on authentic and current material: newspaper articles, songs, movies, literary texts. Themes include: millennials; university studies and the job market; childhood memories; hobbies and favorite pastimes; and technology. Class time is devoted to grammar and vocabulary exercises and because oral proficiency is formally assessed in this class, much time is devoted to guided discussions of the text or movie assigned for the day. Regular journals ensure that students are prepared and ready for the discussions. There are three in-class roundtable discussions on contemporary and personal topics. Assessment consists of chapter exams and a comprehensive final exam; oral presentations (a roundtable on millennials, and a cultural presentation on a topic selected by the student); compositions (a film critique and a fairy tale); homework; journals; and class participation.
A strength of the class is that it focuses on current topics and introduces students to various aspects of Francophone culture through various media. Another strength is that the class is conducted 90% in French and that students are asked to use and interact mostly in French in class as well. Because we are a small program, many students know each other well and feel more relaxed and not as intimidated to speak in French in front of others. Roundtables discussions last 20 minutes and were instituted in order to give students opportunities to speak for a length of time in the target language in hopes that it would raise their confidence and develop their fluency. In students’ evaluations of the roundtables, students have expressed the fact that it indeed helped them realize they can say more than they thought they could. Overall, roundtables have helped with oral proficiency, as seen in better oral exam scores.
But students also expressed frustration with their oral performance (during roundtables and oral exams) because they become nervous and stall, sometimes forgetting basic words or grammatical structures. Additionally, in self-evaluations and during individual conferences, students often cite listening comprehension and speaking as the most challenging areas of language learning. One reason they give is the lack of regular opportunities to speak or listen to the language outside of class. Finally, another major weakness of roundtables is that some of the students speak a lot more than others and the only native speaker they are exposed to is still their instructor.
In order to take full advantage of the interaction with native speakers that TalkAbroad provides, the curriculum will include five conversations which will count for 15% of the overall grade and will replace the first oral presentation. There will be one conversation per chapter based on the theme of that chapter.
There will be a pre-assignment activity which will focus on the vocabulary and grammar needed to hold a conversation on the topic, and the post-assignment activity that will focus on the cultural aspect of the conversation and the linguistic experience of the student. Pre- and post-assignment will either be in the form of written blog entries or in-class brainstorming and mini-interviews or roundtable discussions. For each conversation, students will also write a journal entry in English reflecting on the linguistic aspect of the conversation, which areas of their oral proficiency they see improving, and which areas are still challenging.
Individual conversations will allow those students who usually do not participate as much in class discussions to have the opportunity to speak for a sustained amount of time in the target language. Conversely, it will allow students who are more confident to hone their skills and refine their proficiency and fluency.
Through their TalkAbroad conversation partners, students will experience different accents than the one they hear from their instructor, and will become aware of linguistic differences in the French spoken in various parts of the francophone world. Although all efforts are made in a regular class to include different francophone cultures, the class instructor’s background is France and this is what is usually discussed the most in class. Because students will likely be paired with partners from different areas of the francophone world, the cultural experiences they will learn about will enrich our class discussions. Critical thinking is a key component of the language classroom and engaging in discussions on cultural differences not only between francophone culture and American culture, but also on differences within the francophone world will help develop students’ cultural awareness and competency.
- Conversation 1: Pre-assignment: create a “personality-test” (like the ones found on Facebook) of 10 questions on the theme: Are you materialistic? Assignment: Ask your questions to your conversation partner. Post-assignment: report your conversation to the class.
- Conversation 2: Pre-assignment: discuss your university experience with your partner. What are some challenges of being a student? Assignment: Share your experience being a student at MGA with your conversation partner, and ask him/her about his/her own experience; use the subjunctive when appropriate. Post-assignment: as a class, discuss the various experiences of the TalkAbroad conversation partners and whether they differ from those of the students in the class.
- Conversation 3: Pre-assignment: write a blog entry on your favorite childhood memory using past tenses. Assignment: share your favorite childhood memory; ask about your conversation partner’s favorite memories. Post-assignment: share your conversation partner’s experience with the class.
- Conversation 4: Pre-assignment: After watching the short movie 14e arrondissement from Paris, je t’aime, roundtable discussion on the theme ‘we all make mistakes; what do you wish you had done differently in the past? Assignment: discuss some past mistakes you have made and ask your conversation partner to share his/hers. Post-assignment: write a blog entry about your conversation partner’s experiences.
- Conversation 5: Pre-assignment: discuss with your partner the changes technology will bring in the future. Assignment: Share your thoughts about the impact of technology on the future and ask your conversation partner for his/her opinion; use the future tense. Post-assignment: write a blog entry about your conversation with your partner and the changes you both envision happening in the future.
The ten students in the Intermediate II class really enjoyed the TalkAbroad conversations, although they were scared, and for some of them terrified before the first conversation. Students unanimously said they felt more confident in their ability to speak and understand the language.
- “Although it was rough in spots, this seems like it is going to be a great way to force me out of my comfort zone and actually use the language.”
- “I loved the opportunity TalkAbroad gave me, it was a good scenario of allowing me to speak to a native speaker while allowing me the comfort of them knowing I wasn’t going to be the best at speaking. I feel like I knew my performance became better over time, and I realized how much confidence has to do with speaking. I am much more comfortable now speaking in French, but also I’ve realized that I still have my own drawbacks. I have to do at least 30 minutes of prepping before the TalkAbroad; not only to prepare myself but also to switch my brain from English to French. I know I’ve become advanced in French because I’ve never experienced this language-switch in my head before. Overall very pleased with this option in French and it taught me a lot!”
Results of the curriculum redesign were positive, from the students’ reaction to the conversations to the improvement of their oral proficiency and confidence. I was able to see the students’ confidence build drastically from the first conversation, and this confidence carried over in class discussions. TalkAbroad was also an enriching experience culture-wise, as students’ partners were usually not from France, and were able to get different cultural perspectives on the topics we worked on. They learned about university studies in Quebec and Tunisia for instance.
TalkAbroad conversations will become a permanent part of the Intermediate French II curriculum. Depending on whether I receive some funding from my department, I would also like to introduce TalkAbroad conversations at the Intermediate French III level, starting with three conversations during that semester.
Dr. Sabrina Wengier, Middle Georgia State University