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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

French Essentials

This is a review.

We got a chance to try out a language curriculum called French Essentials. How this curriculum came about is pretty interesting.  The authors of this program are a husband and wife team that live in Quebec with their two children.  I am not sure how this next part works, but, their kids go to French school and are homeschooled in English.  Anyway, they started out as a tutoring service for friends of theirs that were homeschooling.  Then they created a DVD course that taught French and that morphed into French Essentials to help make French more affordable and accessible to more people.  It teaches something called International French, instead of Parisian French or Quebec French.  Who knew there was a difference?  Not me!

We have full access to their on-line program for a full year. 

There will be 10 modules in the program which equate out to 2 years of High School French classes. (Right now, Modules 6-10 are being created).    The creators say that you can start this course as young as  grade 2 and just slowly work your way through grade 12. According to  their website, if you start the modules in grade 3 and do one module per year you will complete the courses your Senior year or during grade 12.
 A-girl was the lucky one who got to try this program out this time around.  She has decided that French is her second language of choice, because she plans to spend time in Paris as an adult soaking up the fashion world. 

We got a slightly late start on this, because of our computer/internet problems right when we moved in, but once we got ourselves back up and running, A-girl didn't lose anytime practicing.

The lessons in French Essentials covers:

  • downloadable lessons
  • printable workbook pages
  • online exercises/activities
  • online tests
  • topics on French culture
Want to hear about French Essentials by someone speaking English with a French accent?

French Essentials teaches language targeting 4 skills:  Reading, Writing, Listening (and understanding what you are hearing), and Speaking.

The writing piece of that equation is something that I haven't seen a lot in recent language programs.  It is also the piece that probably frustrated A-girl the most.  But, really, isn't that a super important skill in another language?  The ability to write a note to someone, or a letter to a pen pal and have them not giggling or struggle to read what you have written because it looks like a first grader did it?.  I think I was able to sell this point to A-girl, but she wasn't excited about the exercises where she had to write and spell the words and not just be able to pronounce them and know what they meant.

So, how do these lessons actually work?

Obviously, you log in to your account.  At this point, in the Student Area, there is a page of downloadable workbook pages and lessons (that you can save to your computer for future access) and on-line exercises and tests that you have access to. 

I pretty much just helped A-girl get logged in the first time and let her start lessons.  One thing that was helpful for me, since I wasn't going to be totally hands on was the Parent's Corner.  This is where it had the workbook and the answer key for the lessons as well as a checklist for each module, so you knew what was coming and the scope of work they were going to cover.

The lessons all have "clickable" or interactive portions so you can see or hear parts of the lesson.  In this example, you can click on the teacher to hear how the French alphabet is pronounced.

One of the things A-girl did in her lessons were using on-line flashcards with words in both French and English.  She would also listen to  native French speakers say a word or phrase  and you had to type what you heard.  Spelling counted.  Like I said, this was her least favorite part. 

A-girl usually did French Essentials five days a week.  If we had a particularly busy week, she would only do 4 lessons a week.  At her age, I think this is particularly helpful to help her retain the lessons, since she is working through them at a quicker pace than if she were starting in 3rd grade, for instance.

You know I am a fan of tests, so I was glad that they actually had tests included in their curriculum.  A-girl liked that there were some "games" to play as you were learning what some phrases or words meant.  Although she was sometimes frustrated by her lack of speed, she did get better and better...probably a little of her competitive spirit shining through and being used for good, not evil!

The lessons took A-girl about 20-25 minutes from start to finish. 

Things A-girl Liked: 

  1. How you change the speed of how the people were talking, so you had a better change of pronouncing them better.
  2. That there was lots of time and chances to practice before you had to take a test.
  3. That there were "games" to play.

Things A-girl didn't really like:

  1. Doesn't feel like she is learning the language as quickly as she would like (this might just be the teenager mentality of wanting instant gratification too).
  2. That she had to know how to French.
  3. That there were "games" to play.  Yes, this one appears in both lists!  (She really didn't like the race game.....too fast and stressful for her.)

This program was specifically designed for home learners.  It has both an audio and video component that is probably pretty helpful across almost all learning styles.  There are also nice segments that teach about French culture.  A-girl really liked this part of the lessons.

The only sort of weird thing we found about French Essentials was that it started off really easy in the first few lessons.  Alphabet, words, short phrases.  Seemed super doable.  A-girl was excited.  Then she hit, I think, lesson 4....and it seemed a lot harder, a lot quicker.  She even had me come look to see if she had skipped something, because it seemed so drastically different than what she had done in the first 3 lessons. 

She hadn't skipped anything.  It did just get harder, fast.  This made her not like the program as much for the first few days of it being more difficult.  She still worked through the lessons but not with the glee and excitement that she had the first few days. 

As I already mentioned, this program really stresses spelling, something I haven't really seen in other language programs.  This little fact annoys A-girl to no end and pleases me to no end....because, seriously, when she travels to Paris, she will be able to read the signs, or know how to spell things in notes she may write to cute French boys at the cafĂ©!

The bottom line for us is that A-girl is really learning (not as quickly as she would like, in her opinion - even though sometimes she thinks the lessons move too quickly and are hard :D).  So, we will definitely be continuing to use French Essentials for the duration of our school year.

If you have already learned some French in your household, French Essentials has a placement test available, so, your student wouldn't have to start in Module 1.  Want to take a look at some sample lessons, in case I haven't explained how they work well enough? 

So, do you want to parlez-vous Francais?  From your home?  You can get access for a full year, to all of the French Essentials modules/lessons for $149.95...which includes over 90 lessons.    If you don't want to commit to learning that much French, you can buy the individual models for $69.95 each.  But, you can see, if you have a real interest and commitment, the option to have access to all of the modules is a much better financial deal.

See what other "amis" that are part of the TOS Review crew felt about French Essentials.