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Franco law: a design model in Francophone context.

Abstract

This paper presents an overview of the curricular design and methodological approaches we use to teach French as a second language at the conclusion of the 3-year implementation process of the new French language program at Louisiana State University. Two key features were integrated in the curriculum: the teaching of grammar and culture. We embrace both explicit and implicit methods of grammar instruction in an effort to promote literacy, and we integrate the U.S. Francophone, i.e. French-speaking culture of Louisiana as a core feature in our program.

Introduction

In designing the new curriculum for the French language program at LSU, we first identified the three major problematic areas in the existing pedagogical framework, and then prioritize our program's teaching objectives. The preexisting program was driven by the remnants of the Natural Approach (Krashen & Terrell, 1983), where the teaching of grammar and culture were neglected components, and in many classrooms, French was no longer the medium of instruction. Krashen and Terrell's theory of language learning is based on the notion that language acquisition, including grammatical competence, occurs "naturally" as an unconscious process by exposure to comprehensible and meaningful input in the target language. This theory supports an implicit approach to teaching grammar which heretofore has not sustained the program.

The controversial topic of formal grammar instruction in second language acquisition has been a focus of much debate over the past few decades. In recent years, we have seen a resurgence of grammar teaching in foreign language classrooms as researchers continue to provide evidence that grammatical instruction is essential to second language leaming. Most scholars still consider implicit or unconscious knowledge of the L2 that is attained through frequent and considerable amounts of comprehensible input, to be fundamental in attaining communicative competence in the L2. It is the value in teaching explicit knowledge of grammar that remains the area of contention.

In deciding on the approach or approaches that will constitute the most effective pedagogy in meeting our objectives, we naturally seek approaches that are drawn on theories of teaching and learning and preferably, on empirical research on classroom teaching and learning. Although little empirical research has afforded us with findings on the effects of explicit grammar instruction in SLA, there have been a few studies whose findings support this more traditional method of grammar teaching in French. Harley (1989) found that students learning the French passe compose and imparfait in an immersion setting were not able to correctly produce these structures, but after intensive instruction, their accuracy in the use of these forms greatly improved. Scott (1989) found that students who received explicit instruction in French relative pronouns and the subjunctive, outperformed those who received implicit instruction in these structures. Most recently, Macaro and Masterman (2006) conducted a study to determine the value of a short intensive explicit grammar instruction prior to students enrolling in first-year French. They found that the group that received the intensive instruction performed significantly better in their grammatical knowledge and performance in production tasks than the group that did not receive grammatical instruction. In their meta-analysis of 50 studies on the effectiveness of L2 instruction, Norris and Ortega (2000) concluded that explicit instruction is beneficial and further, that the beneficial effects are durable. Finally, in their review of research on the teaching of grammar, Nassaji and Fotos (2004) conclude that "current research clearly indicates that grammar feedback is necessary in order for language learners to attain high levels of proficiency in the target language." (p. 137).

For a curriculum with no cultural immersion component to supplement the instruction of a 56-lesson syllabus per semester unit, we believe it is counter-intuitive to expect that implicit knowledge can be achieved without prior intensive explicit instruction in the language. We therefore embrace both an explicit and an implicit approach to teaching grammar as a core feature of our program.

Design Model

Franco Law is a comprehensive proficiency-oriented model which embraces an eclectic methodological approach to foreign language teaching and learning. This model addresses our multi-faceted proficiency objectives of the curriculum at the elementary and intermediate levels as follows:

* Form and Structure

* Reading Comprehension

* Aural Comprehension

* Native Accent

* Cultural Awareness

* Oral Proficiency

* Literary Analysis

* Anxiety-Free Acquisition

* Writing Proficiency

Our standardized syllabus-based program is designed to coincide with the order of the lessons presented in the textbook selected for the program: Vis-a-vis Beginning French (Amon, Muyskens, Omaggio Hadley, 2004).

Explicit Grammar Instruction

Focus on Form and Structure by way of a more traditional approach to grammar instruction is emphasized in the program as a requisite to achieving writing proficiency. Support for teaching grammar to enhance writing skills is primarily provided by ESL research. Hinkel (2004, 2002a) recommends that instructors provide extensive and focused instruction in academic vocabulary, grammar, and discourse in teaching writing skills.

One of our fundamental principles in teaching French is a "French Only" policy in all classroom instruction. However, one of our initial observations of in-coming freshmen was that these students were not equipped with basic grammar skills. This factor coupled with a condensed syllabus of only 56 days per semester in the first year program (42 days in the second year program), and 28 students per class section, underscored the need for intensive lessons in grammatical explications. We resolved this issue by designating the first day of each chapter to explicit grammar instruction in English.

Long (1991) makes a distinction between focus on form and focus on forms instruction where the latter is concentrated instruction in grammatical structures. We implemented the focus on forms input phase supplemented with underlying explanations for the grammatical structures, i.e., what we call the "how" and the "why" behind the "what" of the language structures we teach by appealing to students' cognitive thought processes. As language instructors we should anticipate and explain whenever the occasions arise, the "why?"s that some students ask, such as "Why do some adjectives precede the noun while others follow the noun?"; "Why are orange and matron invariable in number and in gender?"; "Why can't we use the possessive adjective instead of the definite article in la main or la maison?"; "Why does souhaiter 'to wish' take the subjunctive whereas esperer 'to hope' takes the indicative?"; or "when do I use il est + adjective and when do I use c'est + adjective?". These and many more questions of this nature inevitably surface, and those students who do want to understand the logic of the structures, are dissatisfied with answers such as "That's just the way is it." or "I don't know--it's not something that can be explained--it comes with using the language a lot.", etc. As the majority of our instructors are graduate student teaching assistants who have had little or no experience in applied or theoretical linguistics and who themselves had had implicit grammar instruction in their undergraduate experience, we treat these pedagogical issues in the French Pedagogy Seminar required of all teaching assistants during their first semester of teaching in the program.

We have found that linguistic analysis and knowledge of the underlying rules of grammar assist in the learning and retention process. The feedback we receive from students corroborates our position as they state in simple terms: "It makes sense". Not only do logical explanations of the language facilitate the retention process (i.e., eliminates some of the meaningless rote memorization processes) but they also result in student appreciation of the French language thus stimulating the students' "intrinsic motivation", a term defined by Noels, Pelletier, Clement, and Vallerand (2000) as "motivation to engage in an activity because it is enjoyable and satisfying to do so" (p. 61).

Vocabulary Acquisition

The input for all contextualized material for this thematic vocabulary lesson is provided in French only (not one word of English) via communicative activities. Due to time constraints in our syllabus, and the fact that the lexical items and all thematic features in this lesson serve as "pretext" for subsequent task-based activities in the remaining lessons in the chapter, it is crucial that the students memorize all forms prior to the following class period. Instructors are encouraged to administer vocabulary quizzes and short pop quizzes of five to ten random words, eliciting written French forms one day, and English glosses another day, alternating in like fashion periodically throughout the chapter.

Moreover, since a course in French Phonetics is not offered until the third or fourth year and even then only a certain number of French Majors enroll in the course, explicit instruction in phonetics and phonology (liaison in particular, i.e., where and where not to insert the linking consonants and why) is also imperative at the lower levels of instruction.

Implicit Grammar Instruction

Due to the explicit grammar instruction in English on Grammar Day and the fact that on that day and only that day, students are permitted to use English to ask questions related to grammar, the remaining lessons are conducted in "French Only". Further, students are expected to respond in complete sentences in French.

Lessons 2 and 3 consist of a quick review of the grammatical structures presented on Grammar Day (Lesson 2 treats the first half while Lesson 3 treats the second half). We are providing here again, input by way of "focus on forms" or explicit grammatical instruction albeit in French. This short presentation is followed by input via the principles of "focus on form", i.e., implicit teaching and learning in the classroom in meaningful contexts for interactional use and application between the instructor and students and among students in group work. Thematic dialogues and a variety of communicative activities that incorporate the vocabulary and the first half of the grammatical structures of the chapter are then presented interactively, and instructors supplement the textbook activities with more meaningful personalized interactive activities.

Culture

Culture Day presents Francophone culture through a variety of diverse mediums. Students follow "personalities" as they communicate from one Francophone country to another via traditional letters and postcards and by email. Readings pertaining to a specific Francophone country or group of French-speaking peoples are supplemented with web links that provide opportunities to further explore the language and culture of these regions.

A special culture segment is dedicated to exploring the Francophone, i.e. French-speaking culture of Louisiana. This unique component comprises the "Francophone Context" of our curriculum. The French legacy in Louisiana extends far beyond the Mardi gras carnival. Thanks to the efforts of a growing number of individuals and organizations, French linguistic and cultural influences remain in existence to this day. It would thus defy all logic to exclude the teaching of Louisiana Francophone culture to students of French residing in Louisiana. Clearly, their ardent desire to maintain their linguistic heritage is an "extrinsically" motivating factor, i.e., motivation that students bring to the classroom, defined by Noels, Pelletier, Clement, and Vallerand (2000) as "those actions carried out to achieve some instrumental end" (p. 61), as demonstrated by high student enrollment in the French language program.

Native-born Louisianan staff and faculty members wrote sections of a Louisiana Francophone Culture custom-published supplement. The featured chapters coincide with themes in the textbook, e.g., the students study the feature on the culinary heritage of Louisiana in conjunction with the two chapters on "food". The supplement begins with an introduction to the History of the French influence in Louisiana, "The Francophone Heritage of Louisiana", followed by the French influence on the culinary tradition of Louisiana, "The Louisiana Culinary Heritage: Cajun and Creole Cuisine". The third chapter, L'Histoire de Mardi gras, presents not only the history but the evolution of a number of traditional rituals and customs many of which are practiced still today. The fourth chapter, Prrserver le patrimoine culturel francophone: Vermilionville et le Village Acadien, presents historical parks, museums, catholic churches, homes, and other monuments that preserve the French heritage in music, art, architecture, cuisine, and craftsmanship, with edifices that date back to the 1700s. The fifth chapter, Preserver le patrimoine ecologigue: Les milieux humides, addresses the ecological and economical value of the Louisiana marshland as well as the current problems involving erosion, and the urgency to save and protect these wetlands.

Supplemental Input and Task-Supported Activities

Lesson 4 wraps up the chapter by providing only comprehensible input in French pertaining to the French language and culture. This is accomplished via DVD viewing of the Vignettes that accompany the textbook and aural and oral activities based on the Listening Comprehension CD. The primary concentration and strength of this lesson is in the task-supported interactive activities and/or games that foster and promote implicit and incidental acquisition (Ellis, 2003). We emphasize the distinction made by Ellis between "task-based" and "task-supported" activities where the latter prescribes that the linguistic forms are presented first and then practiced via task-based activities. Further, as argued by Swain (1995), in addition to comprehensible input, output in the form of interactive practical application is crucial in the acquisition process. Whether it be simply a game of UNO (J'en ai une!) after having learned colors and numbers, or preparing (and then eating) a sandwich, fruit salad, or other foods based on oral recipe instructions after having learned food vocabulary and the imperative structure, or the Newlywed Game after having learned pronominal verbs and the vocabulary of family and marriage; or a more elaborate activity such as the Family Tree activity whereby the entire class is "a family" and detective work is required in order to sort out the family relations amongst the participants, this is the lesson where we observe the language acquisition process taking place. Long (1991) claims that acquisition takes place while learners participate in the "negotiation of meaning", i.e., during interactive activities when communication problems arise. The graduate student teaching assistants create these meaningful task-based interactive activities and share them with their colleagues in the pedagogy seminar.

We replaced the traditional workbook manual with an online workbook which enables face-to-face interaction with students by providing immediate feedback and error analysis as well as statistics and evaluations for students and instructors. There is an abundance of listening comprehension modules in the form of narrative texts and dialogues among native French speakers to enhance and further develop the students' aural comprehension skills. Students are thus provided with an inordinate amount of exposure to comprehensible input to foster learning that is both implicit and incidental in nature as underscored by Ellis (2005), Doughty & Williams (1998), Long & Robinson (1998), Spada (1997) and other scholars.

Literature

It is in the third semester where students begin to demonstrate pragmatic competence in their discussions of current social issues. We introduce literature with a book of four short stories, C'est la vie! (Amon, 2004), that depict the lives of Francophone characters living in the 21st century. The stories afford students more "personal" access to issues that they relate to. The internet, cell phone, and other technologically advanced tools in conjunction with true-to-life issues that young people today encounter such as matters of heart, the internet interpersonal connection, the challenges involved in searching for student housing, etc., directly place the students in a societal context with which they are familiar. The deductive and inductive reasoning demonstrated by these characters provide an excellent example for the students in learning organizational, analytical, and critical thinking skills. Of particular interest is that the protagonists are women, and the stories promote the intellectual and perceptive, i.e., instinctive strengths of women. This is ideal for students of French, who are predominantly women, as we hope these stories will encourage them to pursue their endeavors, promote self-esteem, instill self-reliance, and provide positive reinforcement. Finally, the interpersonal interactions of a multicultural and multiracial nature in these stories greatly enhance the community atmosphere. These stories are entertaining and educational, enabling students to make a personal connection with the content and characters that which is conducive, if not essential, to language teaching and learning. Crucially, this component provides a context that promotes the acquisition of pragmatic competence, as the students are equipped with adequate vocabulary and complex sentence structures thus rendering this the optimal stage for free and open-ended oral language production.

Conclusion

Our approach to grammar instruction enables students to attain explicit knowledge about the grammatical structures and more importantly, to understand the logic underlying the structures. We feel that implicit and explicit learning are not conflicting approaches. On the contrary, we find that explicit grammar instruction that precedes implicit instruction strengthens the students' mastery of grammatical forms and sentence structures leading to faster acquisition. A conceptually similar approach is the interface position of implicit and explicit grammar instruction that is based on the principle that implicit knowledge is unconscious knowledge that will naturally arise and endure from the conscious presentation and practice of grammatical structures (DeKeyser, 1998; Ellis, 2005).

At the conclusion of the 3-year implementation process of the new French language program at Louisiana State University, we find that explicit grammar instruction is indispensable in achieving our desired objectives. Our evaluation is based on high scores on the grammar and controlled composition sections of written chapter exams and on assessment tests that test students' ability to detect errors in grammatical structures and select illogical sentence structures.

Regardless of one's position on the role of grammar instruction in second language acquisition, the consensus today is that the ultimate goal of a university language program is to foster the development of students' pragmatic competence. In the absence of a cultural immersion component in a curriculum, it is impossible to provide adequate opportunities for free and open-ended oral communication within a social context. However, basic pragmatic competence can be cultivated by taking advantage of the interactive processes already primed in terms of "real-time" student-centered social issues that define their identity and era.

As we continue to fine-tune our methodological approaches and evaluate the individual components of our design model, pedagogical issues encountered in classroom observations raise questions regarding the effectiveness of certain strategies. For example, the use of recasts (i.e. instructor repeats students' erroneous structures correctly) in error correction as opposed to explicit and overt corrective feedback must be re-addressed. Although our objective is to maintain an anxiety-free environment by avoiding overt correction, recasts are often ineffective in students' noticing the errors. Regarding oral competence, preliminary findings suggest that grammatical accuracy does not transfer to spontaneous oral production. Oral exam scores provide evidence that while students demonstrate skill in freely communicating ideas, they do so without attention to grammatical accuracy. While we see clear evidence that literacy is rising, we see no evidence to indicate that explicit knowledge directly relates to achievement of oral proficiency.

In-depth analyses of the components of the program, explicit vs. implicit grammar instruction in particular, will be of value in assessing the progress of the program and will also provide empirical data for further research.

References

Amon, E. (2004). C'est la vie!, A French Reader. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Amon E., & Muyskens J.A., & Omaggio Hadley A.C. (2004). 2nd Edition. Vis-a-vis: Beginning French. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

DeKeyser, R. (1998). Beyond focus on form: Cognitive perspectives on learning and practicing second language grammar. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Doughty, C. & Williams, J. (1998). Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, N. (2005). At the interface: Dynamic interactions of explicit and implicit language knowledge. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 305-352.

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harley, B. (1989). Functional grammar in French immersion: A classroom experiment. Applied Linguistics, 10, 331-359.

Hinkel, E. (2002a). Grammar teaching in writing classes: Tenses and cohesion. In E. Hinkel & S. Fotos (Eds.), New perspectives on grammar teaching in second language classrooms (pp. 181-198). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hinkel, E. (2004). Teaching Academic ESL Writing. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Krashen, S. & Terrell, T. (1983). The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom. Hayward, CA: Alemany Press.

Long, M.H. (1991). Focus on form: A design feature in language teaching methodology. In K. de Bot, R. Ginsberg & C. Kramsch (Eds.), Foreign language research in cross-cultural perspective (pp. 39-52). Amsterdam: John Benjamin.

Long, M.H., & Robinson, P. (1998). Focus on form: Theory, research and practice. In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (pp. 15-41). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Macaro, E. & Masterman, L. (2006). Does intensive explicit grammar instruction make all the difference? Language Teaching Research, 10, 297-327.

Nassaji, H. & Fotos, S. (2004). Current developments in research on the teaching of grammar. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 126-145.

Noels, K., Pelletier, L., Clement, R., & Vallerand, R. (2000). Why are you learning a second language? Motivational orientations and self-determination theory. Language Learning, 50, 57-85.

Norris, J. & Ortega, L. (2000). Effectiveness of L2 Instruction: A research synthesis and quantitative meta-analysis. Language Learning, 50, 417-428.

Scott, V.M. (1989). An empirical study of explicit and implicit teaching strategies in French. The Modern Language Journal, 73, 14-22.

Spada, N. (1997). Form-focused Instruction and Second Language Acquisition: A review of classroom and laboratory research. Language Teaching, 30, 73-87.

Swain, M. (1995). Three functions of output in second language learning. In G. Cook & B. Seidlhofer (Eds.), Principles and practice in applied linguistics: Studies in honour of H.G. Widdowson (pp. 125-144). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Caroline E. Nash, Louisiana State University

Caroline E. Nash, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of French and Linguistics in the Department of French Studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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Author:Nash, Caroline E.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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